Provocative art exhibit explores black oppression

Jan 19, 2017

BATAVIA — A noose tied around the neck of a skeleton grows upward into the trunk of a tree. Hanging from that tree’s branches are a lynched man and woman along with guns and knives. Atop the tree, rays of light shine from behind two black children.

The provocative imagery offers hope for the future despite a violent and oppressive past. And the words printed in the bottom corner echo optimism born of despair.

They will climb the trees our forefathers hung from. With blood stained leaves that breed strange fruit, words in song that our foremothers sung of. ... For it is not the children who are violent, but the world that they inherit.

Stacey Robinson’s art is direct, purposeful and meant to fill the viewer with unease.

His work, which he describes as resistance to black oppression, is now on display in the Rosalie “Roz” Steiner Art Gallery at Genesee Community College. The exhibit, “Graphic Protest,” officially opens today and will run through Feb. 16.

“I create a counter assessment to black sterotypes and misrepresentations of black existence,” Robinson said in his artist statement. “My work explores speculative, decolonized territories to think about what blackness means in a space that has never existed without interruption in several hundred years, thus redefining blackness.”

Given the violent state of race relations the past couple of years throughout the country, this controversial exhibit is expected to drive a discussion. That’s what made it so appealing to Mary Jo Whitman, the gallery’s coordinator.

“This exhibit examines the topic of race and racism; it touches upon sensitive issues,” Whitman said. “Some elements may be viewed as controversial, and that is okay. The work isn’t meant to make the audience feel warm and fuzzy; it is a platform to prompt dialogue about the issues surrounding race and racism in contemporary society. The topic of racism is complicated and multilayered. To have open and honest discussions about it, we have to embrace some level of discomfort.”

“Graphic Protest” features two distinct but related series. The Binary Conscience Series consists of images created by digital collage and drawings. The Talking Heads Series is comprised of images of famous black people accompanied by quotes or lyrics.

The Binary Conscience Series begins with found photos, drawings and readings that are blended into thought-provoking, event disturbing, images.

Robinson, an assistant professor of graphic design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, described it as illustrating the “conflicts of integration, mis-education, unresolved slavery, emancipation and black people’s lack of ability to self-organize and self-govern.”

The Talking Heads Series investigates black progression through the images and words of those at the forefront of various movements. From Muhammad Ali to Maya Angelou to astronaut Mae Jemison to OutKast, the ideas expressed, both simple and complex, demonstrate futurist thinking.

Robinson is no stranger to Western New York. He earned his master’s degree from the University at Buffalo in 2015 and returned to the school last month as the final speaker in the 2016 Department of Art Speaker Series.

For GCC, the exhibit is the latest step in continuing to explore new voices through art.

“(It) offers the opportunity to educate our students on a variety of levels,” said Whitman. “In addition to having historical and cultural relevance, it is in-line with current events. This exhibit is also a fantastic example of how imagery can be used to add content and concept to art.”

Opening receptions are scheduled for 12:30 to 2 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. today at the gallery. Due to a busy traveling schedule, Robinson will not be able to attend.

By Matt Krueger, Batavia Daily News