Owens Daniels had called Winston-Salem home for several years before he ever set foot in Old Salem. But once the veteran photographer became acquainted with the historic community, he could scarcely turn it loose.
“I said ‘I live down the street from this, and I’ve never been to Old Salem,’” he explained. “So one day, I decided to go to Old Salem myself, and as a photographer, I was blown away with the light.”
That initial trip blossomed into an 18-month-long project where Daniels explored the impact of light on his subjects and where he would have fit into the equation as an African American in Old Salem in the 18th and 19th centuries.
“I spent about a year and a half going to Old Salem during different lighting conditions,” he said. “…I wanted to know what would a slave see? If I was a servant and I walked into a room, what would I see?”
Three of his pieces are on display for the Delta Arts Center’s latest exhibit – “Invitation @ Delta 2014,” a showcase of works by African American artists from across the state. It was Daniels’ first show.
“It’s time,” said the Richmond, Va. native, who got his start as a photographer in the US Army in 1976. “I’ve been shooting for a long time. I’ve got a passion for photography, particularly portraiture, and I think I’ve got a story to tell through my photographs.”
“Invitational 2014 @ Delta Arts” opened Thursday, Feb. 6 to an enthusiastic crowd of more than 200.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with the turnout, or the submissions,” declared Marguerite Oestreicher, a member of Delta’s Board of Directors and one of the exhibit’s curators.
The 2014 Invitational, which served as a kickoff of the gallery’s celebration of Black History Month, put out a call for work several weeks ago. The result was a diverse collection of 49 pieces by 33 emerging and established artists. The pieces are not just for gawking at; they are for sale, with profits benefitting both the artist and the gallery.
Akinyele Cameron-Kamau, a senior studying art at Winston-Salem State University, was among the emerging artists who made the cut. Ironically, the self portrait Cameron-Kamau submitted was the first painting she did after changing her major from elementary education to art two summers ago. Although her instructor, Professor Scott Betz, told the students they could keep their portraits simple, Cameron-Kamau went the extra mile.
“He was like, ‘I just want you to finish it. It doesn’t have to be great,’ but I’m a stickler for detail, so I took mine home,” related the Holly Springs resident. “…I wanted to make it count.”
Cameron-Kamau’s efforts paid off. Last year, when WSSU officials approached Betz in search of an artist who could depict Chancellor Donald Reaves in a portrait to hang in the new Donald J. Reaves Student Activities Center, Betz said he knew just who to call on.
“She is very meticulous, she is very professional, she follows through,” he said of Cameron-Kamau. “This would reflect well on the art program, and I knew Akinyele could pull it off.”
Cameron-Kamau rose to the occasion, completing the massive portrait in just two weeks. Despite the considerable exposure she has gotten for the Reaves piece, the Invitational was Cameron-Kamau’s first show at what she calls “a real gallery.” The 21-year-old was one of four current and former WSSU students whose work was on display at Delta last week.
“I’m very pleased that you can see so much good work that is being done by our students,” said exhibit curator Allison Fleming, a Delta Board member and chair of the Department of Art & Visual Studies at Winston-Salem State University.
The show was intentionally fluid, allowing the artists to submit work on virtually any theme or medium they chose, with a goal of celebrating the breadth and diversity of African American contemporary art, Fleming said.
“It was specifically advertised just for African American artists, just because that’s our mission, to promote African American art,” she explained. “It’s Black History Month in February, and we really wanted to kind of go back to our core mission.”
Roxboro native Cornelia Webster’s piece, “Gordan,” is one of the only mixed media works in the show. The piece, with its leather and acrylic paint on Indian cotton, is part of a style of art Webster has dubbed “hispictorials” – works of art with historical backgrounds.
“Gordan was a runaway slave,” she explained. “He used a very ingenious method of covering himself with onions so he could evade the slave catchers. He went into the safety of the Union Army and he eventually joined … There is a photograph of him in the Smithsonian, so this is a reproduction of that photograph.”
The stories behind Webster’s work – which spans more than 35 years – will be detailed in her forthcoming book, “Society Conscious,” which is slated to be released next month. Webster says she is hopeful that her work will one day be used as a tool to teach younger generations about the storied history of African Americans.
“(I hope) that they see it as an avenue to educate our youth,” the grandmother of three said of area educators. “Without knowledge of ourselves, we are apt to repeat the mistakes of the past.”
The Delta Arts Center is hosting two events in conjunction with the show, an African American Read-In today (Thursday, Feb. 20) at 6 p.m. and “Gospel and Gumbo,” which is being billed as “an evening of networking , delicious gumbo and great music,” on Thursday, March 6 at 6 p.m. “Invitiational 2014 @ Delta Arts” is on view through April 26. For more information, visit www.deltaartscenter.org.
see more photos from the Invitational here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.724601224238749.1073741885.355902327775309&type=1&l=b601417e78