Thursday, March 17, 2011

Weusi Then and Now - Dwyer Cultural Center, Harlem NYC

Weusi Revisited: 2010,
and into the 21st Century
Dwyer Cultural Center - Harlem, New York City

Weusi is a Swahili word that means "blackness", and it's also the name given to a group of artists who lived and worked in Harlem. Founded in 1965,  Weusi is now considered a precursor to the larger Black Arts Movement. These artists were among first to make African imagery a central part of their work, taking that visual language from the fringes of the art world right to the mainstream. Among its many accomplishments was the creation of the Nyumba Ya Sanaa Gallery in Harlem, the first professionally and internationally recognized exhibition space for Black Art.

The influence of these black artists on art and mainstream culture was huge, from museum shows to fashion and pop culture, as Harlem went from a marginalized community to the one proud of its unique culture. The Dwyer Center has a number of very captivating works from this movement on display from a show that looked at the history of the movement and evolved into a look at those artistic preoccupations to the present day.

What Does it Take by ML Johnson (2009) uses bright, saturated colours and Africa meets American icons and images. Ademola Ougebefola was one of the principle artists of the movement. He first moved to Harlem in 1966, at a time when the city was deep into the time of the Civil Rights Movement. The show features a work of his on canvas from 2007 on canvas. It's abstracted, using the same kind of bright, rich palette, along with the textures of paint and added bits of paper and canvas. You'll find another piece of his in a print that hangs behind the desk at the Center - a striking piece in black shot with rich colours, blending images of jazz cats and African drums floating in a natural landscape of greenery.  It's colourful and rhythmic, like much of the work of this group. (Image is of a poster - not mentioned specifically in this post.)

Here's the Center's video about Ademola Olugebefola and his work:



(You can see much more on their Youtube channel.)

The Center also features an ongoing "Harlem is..." series, which currently is looking at the many churches and religious institutions in the neighbourhood and their strong influence on both the early migration to Harlem from the impoverished South and its culture.

Dwyer Cultural Center (258 St. Nicholas Ave.) and open to the public Monday through Friday from 10am to 5pm and on Saturday from 1pm to 5pm.
(Image to the right is by Gaylord Hassan, 2003)

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