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ArtsConnect features Topeka Black artists in gallery exhibit

The walls of ArtsConnect exude a vibrancy that beckons passersby along N. Kansas Avenue.

The exhibit celebrating black artists and history features a mix of mediums highlighting artists of color from the area, as well as some of the best projects by younger artists in the Living the Dream art competition.

The exhibit at 909 N. Kansas Ave. was coordinated for Black History Month as one of the few events The Links Inc. presented throughout February. However, Monica Crawford, president of the Topeka chapter of The Links, says black artists and history should be celebrated year-round.

“We have wonderful, talented artists here in Topeka, Kansas, and we need to showcase them more than we actually do,” Crawford said. “Show our young aspiring African-American artists that there is someone who looks like them, who has exactly what they have and also the passion that they use.”

The stories behind the artwork

The five featured artists are Alisha Saucedo, Aisha Imani Sanaa, Jordan Brooks, Oshara Meesha and Zandra Sneed-Dawkins.

Brooks, a Topeka-based artist, spoke about his art during the gallery’s opening reception earlier this month on First Friday.

“I have some pieces here where I have a little more, a little bit inspired by a racial indifference, I would say,” she said. “And then only me who am an artist and only my impression, my experience and only life and I try to express myself”.

One of Brooks’ two pieces Brooks included a stencil-like graffiti artwork titled “I Hope You Fight, Love is King,” which used the likeness of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a repeating pattern across elements paintings.

Moreover:Art so white: Black artists want representation (beyond slavery) at the Met, National Gallery

Across the gallery are ceramic pieces made by Alicia Saucedo, who has been creating art at Fire Me Up Ceramics, 1000 N. Kansas Ave for some years.

“I don’t have any artistic words to say about it unless I create what I felt like creating,” Saucedo joked of his speckled stoneware pieces on Saturday.

“As a former massage therapist, much of my work, both in my professional and ceramic life, is about how I feel when I use clay, and then also how my body can move using clay,” said Salcedo . “And I just try to focus on bringing healing and healing to myself as I use the medium.”

Also attending the reception on Saturday were artists Aisha Imani Sanaa and Oshara Meesha.

“My name means ‘She lives,'” Meesha said. “The work, jewelry and art that I make represent living life. This is how I want my artwork to be represented when people see it.”

Meesha said that following a diagnosis of depression, anxiety and PTSD, she has found healing in making her artwork as an expression of life.

“I think it’s very important that we embrace our art, especially embrace what it’s about are black artists or minority artists, because we all have a voice,” she said. “And once we find our voice, I want to share that voice.”

For Imani Sanaa, sharing her artwork in a public setting was uncomfortable at first, but she quickly adjusted as the opportunities started to open up.

“This was just an indicator to me that I was on the right track,” Imani Sanaa said. “That our work is meaningful to people and that they enjoy seeing it.”

Towards the back gallery pieces by young artists from the Living the Dream art competition line the walls. Shawnee Heights art teacher Avery Ayers-Berry said she is proud to see how her students’ artwork is displayed and how they handled the creation of artwork for a project on the activism.

“I usually tell them art is about bringing awareness to things,” Ayers-Berry said. “And so it’s a great place to share your voice and try to bring about change and awareness.”

Buying and sharing art is the best way to get involved

Sarah Fizell, executive director of ArtsConnect, said this exhibition will be on display until mid-March.

“It’s also really nice to have those community partners because as a non-profit organization, nothing we do is in a vacuum, especially when we’re an arts organization,” Fizell said, “and we can’t do this work without our community.”

For those interested in helping empower local artists, Fizell said the best thing you can do is buy and share art.

“There’s always this idea that you never become famous in your hometown, but also that you don’t become famous without your hometown,” she said. “So being able to show this work here is important. And hopefully it means that one day these same works will be in the MoMA, the MET.

“We always hope that every artist in this community finds their way to a successful life, that they can have the life they want as an artist.”

One program that ArtsConnect facilitates to help emerging artists is Artist Inc.

The fellowship program, which has opened its spring applications through March 7, is an eight-week training workshop with the goal of sharing entrepreneurial skills relevant to their craft and applying what they learn through cooperation with colleagues.

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