Local Art Exhibit Spotlights Racism, Injustice

Artists Embrace Social Activism

Barrington M. Salmon | 9/4/2013, 3 p.m.
Dozens of pieces of art are on display as part of "The Art of Justice: Honoring and Continuing a Movement ...
"Profiled" Mixed Media by Larry Poncho Brown is part of the exhibit "The Art of Justice: Honoring and Continuing a Movement for Equality through Artistic Expression" at the Mount Rainier Artist Lofts Gallery in Mount Rainier, Md.

Celebrated artist Simmie Knox was born and grew up in the segregated South. He lived through the indignities, felt the jagged knife of bigotry, and endured the slights and the disrespect that were part and parcel of the racism, segregation and discrimination that formed the pillars of Jim Crow.

The Aliceville, Ala., native recalls being a high school student when two white men kidnapped and murdered 14-year-old Emmett Till for whistling at a relative on Aug. 28, 1955. So when details of the Trayvon Martin shooting were revealed in 2012, Knox's reaction was the same.

"I recalled the response to that," said the 78-year-old Knox during a recent interview. "It was an injustice then and echoed many other situations such as lynchings that had gone on in the past. When you get to my age, you call it as you see and usually we know what it is."

So when Knox's friend and fellow artist Michael Brown called asking him to be a part of an exhibit giving an artistic voice of protest to Trayvon's murder and the plight of black and brown children across this country, Knox agreed.

Knox's portrait of civil rights icons Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer is one of 100 pieces of art created by 60 artists in the exhibit titled, "The Art of Justice: Honoring and Continuing a Movement for Equality through Artistic Expression." Baker and Hamer advocated for voting rights for blacks and fought tirelessly against the attempts by segregationists to deny black people the vote.

Brown said he is delighted by the response from his colleagues. As the curator of the exhibit which is at the Mount Rainier Artist Lofts gallery at 3311 Rhode Island Ave., in Mount Rainier, Md., Brown credits Greg Scott, Toni George and Kristie Aja Shingles for being instrumental in ensuring the success of the show.

"Racial injustice is the theme, and the exhibit also deals with nonviolence, freedom and humanity," he said. "I put out the word and everybody wanted to be involved. We have every media – printmaking, ceramic, bronze, etchings and mixed media pieces."

Well over 100 people stopped by at a reception marking the exhibit's premier on Aug. 23, one day before the first of two marches commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington which took place on Aug. 28, 1963.

Trayvon's murder on Feb. 26, 2012 in Sanford, Fla., angered the nation and for well over a month after, hundreds of thousands of outraged protestors across the United States and in cities around the world took to the streets.They demanded that the authorities in Sanford properly investigate the case and at least force Trayvon's killer, George Zimmerman, to be tried in a court of law. Forty-four days after the shooting, a special prosecutor returned a second-degree murder charge against Zimmerman, who followed and confronted Trayvon, an unarmed black teen, who happened to be wearing a hoodie.

Zimmerman claimed that after he confronted Trayvon, a scuffle ensued and, fearing for his life, he shot Trayvon once in the heart. The initial indignation at the shooting was compounded on July 13 when a six-woman jury found Zimmerman, 28, not guilty.