Social justice, art come together in Jamaica

Social justice, art come together in Jamaica
Photo by Naeisha Rose
By Naeisha Rose

Dozens came out last Friday to see the Social Justice Art Show’s second run at Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning presented by Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest).

This year, there was artwork from a dozen artists and the exhibit will last two weeks instead of just one night, according to the councilman.

Last year the art show was at Rufus King Manor, but was moved to the bigger JCAL art center, located at 161-04, Jamaica Ave.

The main theme of the art show was criminal justice, according to the councilman, who is the chair of the Committees of Juvenile Justice, Oversight and Investigation, and Courts and Legal Services.

“It’s a really creative way to think about issues,” said Lancman.

When asked about the idea to present an art show focused on social justice, the councilman offered perspective.

“I’m a misty-eyed liberal representing the interests of my constituents in an extraordinarily diverse district,” he said. “About two-thirds of my district is people of color, and their experiences in the criminal justice system is something that any decent person should be profoundly troubled by.”

The artwork was certainly powerful.

Artist Shenna Vaughn had one piece titled “Say My Name,” which had a collage of stories about police brutality or negligence with pictures of Amadou Diallo to Trayvon Martin. An empty black hoodie and jeans were stretched out on top of it like a specter coming out of the canvas. In place of a face was a mirror.

“I purposefully put a mirror because that could be you, that could be me,” Vaughn said. “When you are standing there in front of the piece, you can take it in and experience what it is like to be a black man or black woman.”

Her other piece, “Revealing Grace,” is another collage including articles ranging from the civil rights movement to the Black Lives Matter protests. There are red painted lines connecting the movements to the depiction of black figures in the media. On top of the canvass is a noose.

Another artist featured at the show was Wanda Best. Her work depicted the hyper-incarceration of people of color in the prison system.

“For every one white person, there are five African-Americans and two Hispanics in the United States jails,” Best said. “The United States incarcerates the most people, worldwide, with over 2.5 million under criminal supervision.”

In the painting, “Prison Population,” a white figure is huddled behind bars next to five black figures and two brown. In the companion piece, “Black Lives Matter,” instead of stars in the American flag there are trees with blood on the leaves and black people hanging from nooses.

“Trees grow leaves that produce air and air gives life, but with human intervention, trees bare strange fruit,” said Best, who had in mind Nina Simone’s song “Strange Fruit”when she painted the piece.

Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), and Assemblywomen Vivian Cook (D-Jamaica) and Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens) also sponsored the art show.

Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.