Images of various works of art.
The annual Black Lives Matter RVA Art Show features works from dozens of artists, among them several with VCU connections. (Photos courtesy of Black Lives Matter RVA Art Show)

Art goes virtual at annual Black Lives Matter show

The Black Lives Matter RVA Art Show features works from dozens of artists that highlight inclusivity and racial justice.

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Artist Richard Bargdill couldn’t stand to see the Black Lives Matter RVA Art Show become a victim of the pandemic. He had shown his work in the show since its inception in 2017.

“It didn’t look like it was happening this year and with all that was going on — protests, monuments coming down, etc. — it seemed like this was a year where the show had to occur. It was important because of the focus on racial injustice,” said Bargdill, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Bargdill and former show leaders formed a steering committee and moved the gallery show, traditionally held at First Unitarian Universalist Church in Richmond, to a virtual format. 

“Moving from a gallery to a virtual show is a big challenge for artists who are used to having in-person shows,” Bargdill said. “None of us were prepared to do it, but as a committee we worked to make it happen.”

The nine-member committee, which included several VCU alums and former professors, assembled a virtual collection of works from local and regional artists that highlight inclusivity, anti-racism, racial justice and the celebration of Black joy.

“Too frequently the Black experience has been belittled, dismissed and silenced. This show aims to celebrate Black empowerment, resilience and beauty,” Bargdill said. “We aim to honor all Black lives — past and present — regardless of age, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation or identity by using the visual and recorded arts (dance, spoken word, music, etc).”

The show, which has its opening celebration on Feb. 5 at 7 p.m., will last a year and is being sponsored by the VCU Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, which is providing webinar resources for events that will take place the first Friday of every month. Registration is required for each free event, including the opening this Friday. The art show is available to view now.

“The webinar allows us to have panelists. Our artists will have two minutes to talk about their piece or pieces of artwork. Actor Daphne Maxwell Reid is going to host the art interviews,” Bargdill said. 

Bargdill has two pieces in the show that highlight female activists — leshia Evans protesting the murder of Alton Sterling by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Bree Newsome Bass who removed the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State Capitol 10 days after a white supremacist killed eight members of a Black church.

“These are acrylic paintings with recognizable human beings,” Bargdill said.

On the big screen

VCU Libraries is again working with with the Black Lives Matter RVA Art Show this year and will be showing the art on The Cabell Screen beginning Monday, Feb. 15.

Another artist in the show with connections to VCU is 2018 School of the Arts alum Jaraz Jenkins. Now a professional artist, mentor and art teacher, Jenkins had to navigate a rocky path to get to this point in his career.

A native Richmonder, Jenkins grew up in rough neighborhoods during the war on drugs and crack epidemic of the 1990s. He saw more than a child’s eyes should ever see. “I’ve seen a lot of crime, and I’ve witnessed police brutality,” Jenkins said.

As a kid, Jenkins liked to draw. In school, he won awards for his work and was featured in the Richmond Times-Dispatch in elementary school. “That type of recognition made me believe in myself,” he said. “But I didn’t take art seriously. I didn’t think it was obtainable.”

He veered from art when he went back to the streets. “I got deeper and deeper into the streets. There came a time when everyone around me was getting locked up and going to jail. I felt like I had to do something,” he said.

His road back to art started when he began going to a recreational art program at Pine Camp Cultural Arts and Community Center. “They had a national arts program and the art director told me to enter and I did and won second place,” he said.

He stuck with art and went to John Tyler Community College, where he met professor Michael Pierce, who gave Jenkins his first show. Later he applied to VCU and enrolled in the painting and printmaking program.

Jenkins’ art touches on issues within society — things he has been through and to which he can relate. “I try to insert myself into each painting,” he said. “I use tough textures to show the tough environment Black people have to navigate just to survive in America.”

His two pieces in the show pay respect to the Black Lives Matter movement and the people who gave their lives fighting for justice, never knowing they would become heroes: Rapper Nipsey Hussle, who was killed in March 2019, and Kalief Browder, who hanged himself in 2015, two years after his release from Rikers Island jail complex, where he had been held without trial for allegedly stealing a backpack containing valuables. 

“They have become modern-day icons for equality,” Jenkins said.

This is his first year in the show. 

“I like the idea and the setup,” he said. “I really appreciate the fact there is a show put together to celebrate Black Lives Matter during Black History Month.”