WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY THE
MINORITY ARTIST IN ST. LOUIS
When De’Joneiro Jones learned that his artwork would be exhibited in Washington University’s venerable Seigle Hall, he wasn’t that surprised. “I had a feeling it was going to happen. I thought they were going to choose a different piece, but appreciated that they were doing this at all.” Jones’s multimedia piece, Vicious Cycle, centers upon an image of TIME magazine from August 2, 1965, its cover featuring a black-and-white photomontage of the Los Angeles riots. Bursting with a cacophony of splattered acrylic paint, a collaged antique Italian banknote, and a torn 1984 calendar page, the piece’s meaning is, according to the artist, “open to interpretation.” In light of the work’s 2014 provenance, however, it’s hard not to instinctively recall the days following the shooting of Mike Brown and again after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, when Ferguson, St. Louis, and the country at large became embroiled in an ongoing movement to redress centuries of race discrimination.
This upcoming academic year, Vicious Cycle will be on view in the office of Washington University’s Vice Provost Adrienne Davis as one of sixteen works selected as part of an inaugural call for “submissions of artworks from underrepresented minorities,” an effort spearheaded by the university’s new Center for Diversity and Inclusion. 30-plus artists were evaluated by an advisory board of students and faculty co-chaired by LaTanya Buck, the director of the Center, and Heather Corcoran, the director of the university’s College & Graduate School of Art. While Jones does not consider himself a political artist, the artwork’s placement on the walls of the university addresses two cultures that, sadly, rarely overlap: Washington University in St. Louis and the St. Louis that often invisibly orbits Washington University. Davis notes this fissure. “We are Washington University in St. Louis, but St. Louis artists haven’t always felt fully invited into campus community. De’Joneiro Jones and other artists selected are part of the aesthetic and cultural fabric of our community. It’s part of the university claiming the city and the region in which we live.”
As a collector of African American artwork, Davis resolved to take her move to a new office across campus as an opportunity to share the work of emerging minority artists. “When I got my brand new space, I first thought, ‘I should bring some of my art over.’ Then I thought, ‘No, this would be a great opportunity to bridge all of the loves and passions in my work.’ I want visitors to our office to see a range of experiences represented. It’s important for people who walk into my office to see St. Louis artists there.” This wish will soon be granted: six works from five artists were selected for the Vice Provost’s office. An additional nine works and three artists were chosen for exhibition at the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. Of the four women and four men chosen, each offers breadth of styles, media, and thematic concerns that are a refreshing shift from the campus’s virtually uninterrupted granite-scape of somber red and pink. Addoley Dzegede’s 2011 The Ships That Shaped presents 198 paint samples based upon the colors of a tiled fountain the artist encountered while traveling in Portugal, once a site of the Atlantic Slave Trade. “I started to think about the relationship between wealth and beauty and the historical suffering that supported that relationship. At first, I was just using the paint samples for their color and planned to draw the iconic diagram of the Brookes ship on them, and cut those out. But as I began to work, I saw that there was a peculiar relationship between the imagery and the names of the paint colors.” From a distance, the piece resembles a lively Josef Albers color experiment, but up close the infamous slave ship forms pop from the innocuous paint samples, reshaping the way we see the strips of decorative, tile-like hues. Maria Ojascastro’s mixed-media piece, Breathe, layers prints, paint, text and found objects, exuding a more contemplative mood, as do Sukanya Mani’s acrylic paintings Back to Back and Flower Seller. It is clear that submissions were selected based on a range of criteria, quality of execution chief among them. What is less clear is just who and how many will see these artworks, and whether their installation at a renowned university can prove more than an essentially symbolic gesture. “I'm just happy that someone at Wash U outside of the Sam Fox School [the university’s art division] is even thinking about artists—and artists of color, more specifically, on top of that,” shares Dzegede. “And I love that artists from outside of the Wash U community were also invited to apply.” Lyndon Barrois, Jr., a university adjunct instructor whose works Super and Wonder will be on view, relates a sober, if hopeful, perspective with regards to the Center’s audience. “I honestly have no idea who will see the work, either within or outside of the University, but perhaps Wash U and its people are the target audience, given that this initiative seems to
Maria Ojascastro, Breathe, (Image courtesy of the artist) 07 ALLTHEARTSTL.COM FALL 2015