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Through a Lens of Beauty & Wonderment: Notes on Collaborative Friendship | Opening Reception

October 7, 2023 @ 12:00 pm - 3:30 pm

Join us for an opening reception to celebrate and kick off our fall/winter exhibition with curator and artist Nnaemeka C. Ekwelum! 





…Notes on Collaborative Friendship (First floor Burroughs Gallery) is the culmination of Nnaemeka C. Ekwelum’s doctoral research on friendship, artistic collaboration, and decolonial Black political thought. Through a series of intentional and creative partnerships between him and eight other US-based artists/scholars, this project experiments with the rigor of collaborative friendship as a creative methodology in contemporary art making and knowledge production. It also affectively explores alternative ways to represent Black Studies scholarship within and beyond academic spaces of learning.  


Collaborative artist interventions in the exhibition include:  Lishan AZ, Shenequa “SHENEQUA” Brooks, Stephen Hamilton, Noor Jones-Bey, Mercy Emelike, Carmen Neely, and Cordelia Rizzo. 


*Co-sponsored by Northwestern University’s Department of Black Studies. 




Nnaemeka (Emeka) C. Ekwelum is a transnational and multidisciplinary researcher, educator, and artist/curator from Boston, MA. He currently lives in Chicago, IL, where he is a Ph.D. candidate in Black Studies (African American Studies) at Northwestern University. Emeka’s scholarly and creative interests converge at the intersection of history, critical theory, creative expression, curatorial practice, and political education. His dissertation project–“On Artistic Collaboration & Decolonial Black Political Thought”–examines the critical role(s) of beauty, wonderment, and friendship in contemporary and craft art collaborations between and amongst Black creatives. Prior to returning to graduate school, Emeka held a professional career as an educator in his home state of Massachusetts, formally and informally working with youth and adult learners across a range of cultural contexts in the Boston/Greater Boston Area. His teaching philosophy, interpersonal values, and political commitments are a reflection of his academic training in Comparative Ethnic Studies (Columbia University, B.A.) and Arts in Education (Harvard University, Ed.M.), drawing on theories of Black feminist and political thought to interrogate ideas of power, privilege, and personhood through art and artmaking.




October 7, 2023
12:00 pm - 3:30 pm
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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.