By Cassidy Klein
Queens artists are creating a colorful cry for justice at the third annual Social Justice Art Exhibit, currently on display at the Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning.
The exhibit, located at 161-04 Jamaica Ave., is showcasing powerful and thought-provoking works of art, focused on issues such as violence against women, voting discrepancies, the criminal justice system, homegrown terrorism and protests in sports.
“The artists are looking at issues that impact their lives,” said Queens Village artist Wanda Best, who has five works of art on display this year. “Art is important because a lot of the issues are hard to talk about, whereas a painting can educate people visually about issues in the community and also in the big picture of society.”
There are more than 40 original pieces on display this year from more than a dozen Queens artists.
Best teaches a free art class in Jamaica and many of her students have work in the exhibit this year.
City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) and Best are hosting the exhibit, which will be on display until Oct. 4. Admission is free.
“Local artists are using their remarkable skills to shine a light on our badly broken criminal justice system and how it has harmed individuals and communities,” Lancman said. “I encourage everyone to stop by the Social Justice Art Exhibit, observe the impactful works of art on display and then demand reform that will make our justice system fairer for all.”
The exhibit debuted in 2016 as a one-night event. But after its success and popularity the first two years, the exhibit now remains open for three weeks.
Best said her intention as an artist is to encourage an emotional response with issues that are often too painful for words.
“For one of [my pieces] I focused on violence against women,” she said. “Women must be able to come out of the shadows and process and heal. I go to the domestic violence shelters and do art with the women. I help them create so that they can process and heal through art.”
Best also created a piece about protests in sports because of the current attention on former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
“Right now the focus is on Kaepernick, but it goes back to the 1950s when a white baseball team all took a knee in protest of Jim Crow,” said Best. “Protests in sports have been going on, and the more people that come out and support will bring attention to these issues.”
For Best, the purpose of art is to transform, awaken and challenge.
“The takeaway from me is that I hope people view the art and walk away a new perspective,” said Best. “Like, ‘oh, I didn’t know that was an issue,’ or ‘oh, I didn’t think about it like that.’ I want people to take away a question that will challenge them.”
Reach reporter Cassidy Klein by e-mail at cklei