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Just Above My Wall, (To The Right)

Just Above My Wall, (To The Right), curated by Ciera Alyse McKissick, brings together Black collectors and SSCAC’s permanent collection.


Just Above My Wall, (To The Right), showcases Black contemporary artworks from 13 emerging and established Black art collectors from Chicago. During a time when Black artists and their work is in high demand, McKissick chose to highlight Black collectors who are invested in the preservation of Black art, much like the South Side Community Art Center’s mission and legacy.

This show encompasses parallelled histories between Black artists within the South Side Community Art Center’s collection, Black artists of today, and what Black art collectors are acquiring.

During a time when Black artists and their work is in high demand, McKissick chose to highlight Black collectors who are invested in the preservation of Black art, much like the South Side Community Art Center’s mission and legacy. Collector, Tracie Hall, describes her collection as “living with the ancestors.” 

“I think that it’s important for us to demystify art because for me, the art that I live with charges my space. I think that our homes are almost like our safe harbor, and for me art is very spiritually charged,” Hall says. “I think that for Black people it’s important for us to really charge the space that we’re in, because a lot of times our spaces are so contested, our spaces are sometimes grabbed from us, or we’re displaced — the simple act of collecting art, or placing art in a place that you can see it, and letting it envelop you, is almost like resistance. I think that seeing art puts you in dialogue with something beyond yourself,” she said. 


Work by Sylvester Britton from the South Side Community Art Center Permanent Collection.

Selected works from the SSCAC collection include Bill Walker, Ralph Arnold, Sylvester Britton, Yaounde Olu, Hale Woodruff, and Dorothy Higgenson-Carter among other works from the 20th century. Selected work from collectors include both emerging and established artists from the 21st century like, Krista Franklin, Hebru Brantley, Brandon Breaux, Alexandra Antoine, Erin Mitchell, and Lawrence Agyei to name a few. 

For the curator, McKissick, who is also one of the emerging collectors featured, it was important to center the exhibition around collecting, and use the Center’s collection as a catalyst. 

“Oftentimes when you think of an art collector or you see an art collector, the first thing you’re seeing is a rich white man or couple with money, and if you’re seeing a black collector, it’s someone famous like Jay-Z and Beyonce, Diddy, or Swizz Beats. While I am glad that celebrities are bringing the notion of owning art to the forefront, I think it also creates a misconception that you need to be of a certain caliber to collect artwork, or that it’s an unobtainable thing,” McKissick says. “I ideated the show around the Center’s collection because the space itself was created in that same vein. A group of college art students created this space because they didn’t see spaces that looked like them or represented them. Their collection is a representation of the hard work of those artists, and a sign that they were creating and existing, and so is the work of the artists these collectors are representing today. 


Collectors Include: Patricia Andrews-Keenan, Janelle Miller, Stephanie Graham, John Ellis, Martha Wade, Tracie Hall, Drew Enstrumental, Raub Welch, Amanda Williams, Ayanah Moor, Alicia Goodwin, Rob McKay, and Ciera McKissick

Artists Featured From Their Collection: Solomon Adufah, Robert Pruitt/Thomas Lucas, Alexandria Valentine, SHENEQUA, John  H. Blanton, Lawrence Agyei, Krista Franklin, Adler Guerrier, Max Sansing, David Anthony Geary, Alexandra Antoine, Hebru Brantley, Zephyr, Brandon Breaux, Paul S. Benjamin, Leasho Johnson, Erin Mitchell


*Image courtesy: Lawrence Agyei from the collection of John Ellis.


Works in EMERGENCE are diverse in their subject matter and media, but a few themes reappear throughout. Working in abstraction or in the traditionally peaceful genre of still life, artists like William Carter, Allen Stringfellow, and Jonathan Green express themes of interiority or sociability, history or modernity. Notably, Stringfellow and Ralph Arnold both experimented with media and materials and worked extensively in collage, which allowed them to combine abstract design, figurative imagery, and on occasion political ideas.

Viewers typically expect Black artists to focus on particular aspects of their social and political identities within their work. Where might those expectations come from? Still life, abstraction, and collage may express many different things about artists’ interior lives and their visual and social observation, whether connected to public manifestations of identity or not.

William Carter’s mid-century still life Untitled presents a group of vibrantly colored bottles that invite the viewer’s gaze, set against a similarly colorful background with floral elements like grapes and leaves. They give evidence of conviviality and might be interpreted as symbols of social gatherings, but they could also just be a collection of pleasing forms. We might put Carter’s still life in dialogue with that of Jonathan Green, who became close friends with Carter while living in Chicago. Green’s close-up view of an eloquently simple composition presents oranges, a pear, and a lemon in front of two vessels. Works like this piece call the viewer to examine the objects the artist chose to include, to consider how they interact with each other like bodies in space, and to reflect on their meaning within the traditional genre of still life painting.

Collage might suggest the piecing together of identity from different components that might not usually coexist, giving room for more expansive imaginations of meaning than a straightforward representational image might allow. It could also just be an inventive way of combining colors, shapes, and textures. Allen Stringfellow’s Untitled, a collage from 1962, brings familiar motifs from still life—fruit and flowers, desserts and glassware—together with imagery of artist’s models and performers. Layered with paint and tissue paper that frustrate the viewer’s attempt to get clarity on the subject matter, the bursts of form and colors hint at the splashy abstraction of Stringfellow’s untitled, textured painting made from house paint and particulate on cardboard. Here the artist tests commonly found materials to create new textures and plays with the creation of colors and finishes that diverge from “Western” academic painting methods.

In The Waiting, Arnold constructs a large collage from different paper components, lace, and paint. In the piece, elements of European and African art are placed in dialogue with one another, while some figures appear alone and isolated, others in large groups. Without giving easy answers, Arnold implies questions about social issues. Who is waiting, and for what? In his Love Sign II, which bears the words “Love is Universal,” Arnold asserts the equal validity of all types of romantic affection and love, utilizing collage to convey a more straightforward political message.