“The Artist creates the material that we look back upon as a part of history”—Roy DeCarava
Less than 20 years ago, an exhibition in New Mexico celebrating the 400th anniversary of slavery such as; the one presented by the New Mexico African American Artist Resilience Committee would not have been possible. Prominent artist Kenneth Winfrey was volunteering at the South Broadway Cultural Center 15 years ago when he encountered a gallery exhibit in the library by the African American Rainbow Artists. He saw artists’ artwork on display in the library and realized there was a need for a space where Black artists could display their work. In fact, he would also display his own artwork soon after this discovery in that very same space. When Winfrey went on to become president of the New Mexico African American Artist’s Guild, he noticed that, as the years progressed, the demand for preserving a Black artist presence in the state was becoming an issue of the past. Winfrey says, “Fortunately, in the last few years, the request for a lack of space can be heard. Folks don’t give us as much pushback about that. We used to have a really hard time; but now, thanks to things like Black Lives Matter, we just say we want a black space and people understand. It’s been absolutely amazing in the last 15 years.” Currently, the primary mission of the NMAAAG, which heads up the majority of the shows and galleries in Albuquerque, is to ensure that the history and content of Black artists is not being overlooked.
Black New Mexican artists reiterate the words of Winfrey, acknowledging that not until recently has there been a demand for Black artwork. This emphasizes the significance of the BLM movement, which has allowed for a creation of these spaces.
Raashan Ahmad is part of the movement of artists from Northern New Mexico who are hosting exhibits, teaching classes and creating art work that illuminate Black culture. The movement co-founded by Rashan Ahmad, Nikessha Breeze and Tigre Bilan—referred to as “Earthseed” and inspired by the science fiction of Octavia Butler—was born out of a need for an artist community amongst Black people in Northern New Mexico. Ahmad says, “Earthseed was not really formed out of art, but more so out of seeing each other and being seen in spaces where there are so few Black folks.” Ahmad is concerned by the lack of Black spaces in Northern New Mexico and asserts that by saying that there are no Black people, people are “invisibilizing” the Black people that do occupy Northern New Mexico. He says, “Especially in this Black cultural narrative, people act like we don’t exist—except for this month out of the year. It is really devastating and dangerous.” Ahmad urges the Black community to step up to the plate and create the necessary spaces needed to strengthen the bonds of the Black community.
Earthseed Black Arts Alliance is a new Black arts collective in Santa Fe. They strive to form meaningful connections through art in a number of engaging ways within the community—one of which is the involvement in the educational system. On Feb. 2, 2021 Earthseed launched its first-ever online curriculum for free. There are several lesson plans available. One of the lessons is a focus on art, which is aimed at providing students, parents and educators specific insight into Black art in the classroom (For more information, go to earthseedblackarts.org/).
Earthseed co-founder Nikeesha Breeze is an interdisciplinary world-renowned artist based in Taos. They presents various artworks, including; painting, sculpture, ritualistic and performance art that centers around Black cultural reclamation. Breeze is working on a number of captivating large projects, the first of which is a solo show that will be presented at the Form and Concept Gallery in Santa Fe in April 2021. It will then be shown at the New Mexico State University Art Museum in Las Cruces. Both of these venues will show the work they has been developing in the last three years.
“Four Sights of Return” is a project by Nikesha Breeze that focuses on Afrocentric work. The subtitle of the body of work is “Ritual Remembrance Reclamation and Reparation Within the African Diaspora.” They recently sent out a call for artist submissions. They want to showcase African diasporic and Indigenious artists and are asking for a proposal to design a new tool for Black and Indigenous resilience and Black and Indigenous liberation as part of the Major Hands Tools of Resilience Project.
“Part of the reparation piece discusses the ways that Black folk can work to repair the wound of the sanctity of Blackness. The reparation piece comes up again, obviously politically and communially. What do we do to help repair the absolute terror that has happened to Black folks in the last 400 years. Part of that reparation is that we need to actually envision new tools to navigate our healing and our resilience,” says Breeze.
They discuss the “overt and covert” ways that we create tools. They have collected an incredible jury and 35 international artists from around the world who, over the next 12 weeks, will create tools to make their proposals come alive. That work will be featured and all 35 artists will be shown in the virtual exhibit will coincide with their solo show. Last year Breeze worked on a collaboration with other Black artists, Miles Tokunow and Lazarus Nance, to create a performative ritual dance entitled “Stages of Tectonic Blackness,” at Piedra Lisa trailhead in Albuquerque. The artists danced for eight hours straight as an active, ritualized mourning for Black bodies. Their plan is to create a similar performative piece of art in the ghost town of Blackdom, N.M. Breeze is a descendant from the founders of Blackdom, and their family has been here since the 1800s. Breeze says, “I’m really dedicated to Black liberation and Black freedom in this particular land. The potential and the beauty that it holds in relation to Indigenous people here is incredibly important to me.”
Breeze is currently working on applying for grants for future projects after The Las Cruces Museum reached out to them in order to pursue this project.