‘Narrative as Reality’ exhibit highlights struggles of Black artists

The "Narrative as Reality" exhibit created by Dominic Chambers and Abi Salami is currently featured in the Martin Museum. Kenneth Prabhakar | Photo Editor

By Olivia Eiken | Staff Writer

In the words of Dominic Chambers, “There is an arena for you to participate in.” These simple yet empowering words ring loud and clear when walking through the quiet halls of the exhibit entitled “Narrative as Reality: Constructing an Identity” in the Martin Museum of Art.

Chambers and Abi Salami are two of the artists with work featured in the exhibit. The exhibit highlights different aspects of power, process and identity that make up the overall subjective portrayal of the Black lived experience.

Because people outside of the Black community don’t have this lived experience, they often struggle to grasp the emotions and feelings of those who do. Chambers’ and Salami’s art depicts their experiences without using words — rather, creating a visual for audiences of all backgrounds to understand.

“There is an assumption that Black artists are to convey various views of the Black subject, whether it’s the political imagination of the Black subject, the historical conditions of the Black subject or the contemporary conditions of the Black subject,” Chambers said. “For me, I am really interested in the Black imagination and depicting that. … Portraying that space is a desire for me, and I don’t feel an obligation [to any audience] whatsoever to create it.”

As a Black woman, Salami’s experience with creating art has differed from that of Chambers. Since the youth of her artistry, she said she has battled her intersectional struggle of solely creating pieces that are considered aesthetically beautiful. She has since grown to appreciate the impact of meaningful art instead.

As of late, meaningful art for Salami has been portraying her mental health struggles. She said issues like hers are based not on race, but on the lack of diverse voices in conversations surrounding mental health struggles.

“When I talk to people about what I am going through, I am able to connect with so many people who feel like they’re alone,” Salami said. “It’s hard for me to make a painting of a flower when I could make a painting about something that could change somebody’s life for the better. … It’s the constant internal struggle for balance between ‘Is this aesthetically pleasing?’ and ‘Is this getting my message across?’”

The exhibit features 21 selections from the Jessica and Kelvin Beachum Family Collection, consisting of pieces from 19 Black artists. The exhibit, which is in the Martin Museum of Art in the Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center, is open through Nov. 5.