Perspectives at the Moremen Gallery, Louisville, Kentucky

Published February 19th 2024
By Eileen Yanoviak, PhD

In Perspectives 2023, Moremen Gallery in Louisville, Kentucky presents an impressive collection of over one-hundred works by more than thirty regional emerging and established Black artists. The vestibule entry is flanked by two large-scale arresting portraits of Black women that seem to prepare for the difficulty and gravity of the show ahead. Sandra Charles’ Black History is a monochromatic portrait of a Black woman, like a personification of Black History, donning a black COVID mask and an African patterned black dress against a graphic striped wall. With one pop of blood red in the hat, she exudes tenacity and strength. Black History is paired with an elegant large-scale collage, Queen’s Heart, by Cincinnati-based Dafri. Like a monolith against a stark ground, this larger than life photographic portrait makes direct eye contact, bold and confrontational.   

Those pieces are decoys, however, belying the expansive optimism and reverence that pervade the exhibition. The show is anchored by Louisville art legends Ed Hamilton, notable for his large-scale bronze memorials across the nation, and William M. Duffy, Louisville Visual Art 2022 Legacy Award winner. According to gallerist Susan Moremen, the exhibition was conceived organically through conversations with Duffy and Hamilton. They identified and mentored many of the artists who would be included to elevate the professionalism of emerging artists whose works were shown alongside their more experienced and widely recognized counterparts. Established artists preside over this gathering of diverse artists like wiser elders that emphasize and build upon the interconnectedness of the Black artistic community. Other Louisville legends like Elmer Lucille Allen, Che Rhodes, and Barbara Tyson Mosely, among many others, are part of the exhibition. Duffy’s Someone To Watch Over Me 3 feels like a reference to this unofficial camaraderie as two faces are surrounded by smaller faces and a hand embraces the scene in a protective gesture. 

Dafri, Queen’s Heart, Mixed media collage on wood panel

The sacrifices and successes of Black history pervade the galleries, reminders that the present is not possible without the past. Mark Priest’s paintings are ripe with narrative of bygone times, steeped in intense lights and darks and sepia tones. X. Moyo’s Triple Crown and Lavon Williams’ Blue Horse honor the underrepresented history of Black jockeys, a particularly charged subject in Louisville where issues of race, socioeconomics, community culture, and economic development surrounding the Kentucky Derby can cause strife between the city and citizens.  

Shauntrice Martin is widely recognized in the region as an equity activist, especially for food access in Louisville’s West End food desert. Her sculpture, Baptized in the Bok Chitto probably references the Bok Chitto river in Mississippi that was a boundary between plantations populated by slaves on one side and Choctaw territory on the other. In Martin’s sculpture, a figure that may be Choctaw pulls a Black figure from the churning waters, their eyes locked on one another. The bond between them is covered in blessed materials. It gives new meaning to Booker T. Washington’s famous quote, “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.” 

The artworks feel like proxies for the artists themselves, as if they are engaged in conversation with one another. Many of the works are practically audible. Taylor Sanders’ installation of scattered suspended protest posters imply invisible figures raising their signs overhead. Their chants echo in the vast space as a memorial and call to action. Darryl Tucker’s vibrant paintings, like Sunday Dinner Over Grandmas After Church, recollect family gatherings in bold gestural strokes that hum with chaotic energy, a cacophony of voices, and boisterous laughs. 

Lavon Williams, Dancing with a Fat Girl, 2012, Mixed Media Sculpture

It is easy to hear the strum of Lavon Williams’ stylized banjo player sculpted in wood and painted with bright hues or the low tones of the upright bass in Dancing with a Fat Girl. Pinkie Strother’s miniature sculpture of Prince, Pop, sounds like Purple Rain. Even the few non-representational works in the exhibition have the feel of a musical composition–Cedric Michael Cox paintings feel like a vibrant jazz, or Floyd Grace III’s paintings that feel like the crescendo in a brooding symphony. 

What unites the show is a collective voice that emerges, a rhythm that thrums with joy, resilience, and community. Perhaps no image better encapsulates that joy than Sandra Charles’ painting of Jabani Bennett. Charles shows Bennett in a moment of blissful abandon to music and dance. Rendered by Charles in life-size realism and boldness, Bennett beckons us to join her. Bennett is a featured artist as well with the portrait of her daughter done in wistful gestured mark-making that implies the passage of time. Children crop up throughout the exhibition as a  reminder of innocence and the future. Lovingly rendered photorealistic portraits of children by Ton’nea Green reveal the breadth of their character, from sweet and shy to bravado and petulance. 

Artists Group Photo Courtesy of the Moremen Gallery

If the show feels overwhelming in its scale, diversity of medium, and number of artists, that may be part of the point. The exhibition occupies all of the standard white-walled gallery spaces of Moremen Gallery. But, it also spills over into an unfinished warehouse space with exposed bricks and plumbing down the hall. There is so much Black creativity it cannot be contained. It occupies spaces historically reserved for white men and unimagined spaces ripe with potentia