Black student artists carve out space for artistic expression

The Black Art Student Empowerment organization hosted their 5th annual art showcase at the Anderson Gallery on Friday. Photo by Wessam Hazaymeh

Katherine Noble, Contributing Writer

Vivid silver and orange leaves emerged from and floated around the corner of a wall in an eye-catching formation. Their shapes were somewhere between puzzle pieces and autumn leaves, a touch reminiscent of a camouflage pattern. The pieces barely touched the white wall, seemingly intent on curving out and away.

This work is called “Saw Things I Imagined,” and was created by Ciyani Smith, a sophomore in the sculpture and extended media program. The piece, among many others, was presented at B.A.S.E.’s fifth annual art showcase on Friday night. 

B.A.S.E., or the Black Art Student Empowerment organization, works to promote the work of VCU’s black artists.

Students, family members and others lined up for food, chattered in clumps throughout the room and, of course, admired the artwork lining the walls of the Anderson Gallery.

“It’s [the B.A.S.E. showcase] just a great way for us people of color to express ourselves, so I really just wanted to support that tonight.” — Luke Porter

Winston, who goes by her artist name, is a petite silver-haired artist and the vice president of B.A.S.E., who displayed her art at the showcase. She discovered B.A.S.E. at the student organization fair during her freshman year. 

“I just saw ‘black’ and ‘art’ and ‘student,’ and I was like, ‘OK, that’s where I go,’” Winston said. “I fell in love ever since.”

Winston has gotten a sense of community and a place to express herself, explore artistic themes and talk about her art and being a black artist. Her featured pieces were striking paintings done in thick swipes, two in black and white, the third in vibrant blues. 

“These pieces deal with the intersections of being black, being religious and being queer,” Winston said. “And, there’s usually a lot of … friction between all of those identities. And the middle piece here, the gouache one, is about how I feel like I’m going to go to hell when I die, regardless of what I do to be a good person.”

One of her pieces, titled, “Do I Offend You?” is about the stereotype of black women as being perceived as being “loud and angry” intertwined with the theme of being simultaneously queer and religious.

In the piece, a somewhat androgynous woman stands proudly before an altar, reclaiming center stage for herself. 

“That’s why I have the graffiti ‘do I offend you’ and that’s why I have her stance like this,” Winston said. “Black queer people exist. We have a voice. For the showcase, there are black artists at VCU. Like, we exist, we deserve to have our spaces shown and everything.”

Luke Porter, a senior mass communications student, came to support his friends who are involved in the program. 

“It’s just a great way for us people of color to express ourselves, so I really just wanted to support that tonight,” Porter said. 

Porter appreciated the opportunity for expression that B.A.S.E. offers black students and that it showcased different perspectives.

Neyo Prince, B.A.S.E. public relations chair, joined the program at the encouragement of his friends and ended up being nominated for a board position. He said B.A.S.E. fosters advocacy for people of color and creates community and fellowship among students.

“B.A.S.E. to me means just like an outlet to show … who you are, and to express yourself with your creativity,” Prince said.  

B.A.S.E. Fifth Annual Art Showcase
Black Art Student Empowerment members being introduced to audience members at the 5th annual art showcase. Photo by Wessam Hazaymeh
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