By Ethan Duran
On Jan. 18, local artists hung paintings, crafts and photos inside the walls of the King Drive Commons Gallery to connect the artifacts of a racist past to the problems of today. Art by Bashir Malik and Darron Reed was presented in the gallery room next to photographs taken at the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia in Big Rapids, MI. This two-day event was known as Boldacious, part of the Gallery Night and Day event, a series of city-wide art galleries held by the Historic Third Ward Association.
Boldacious showed the Jim Crow era through photographs and artifacts on one end of the gallery and showed the present on the other side through Bashir Malik’s paintings about racism and empowerment.
The exhibit started off with a meet-and-greet with patrons, artists and the event organizer before showing a film from the Jim Crow Museum. In the presentation room next door, patrons enjoyed live jazz music played by Sam Belton Jazz Trio and soul food catered by Pass Da Peas Catering.
Sitting by his works was Bashir Malik himself, going through his tools after putting up his art before the event. “I don’t have titles for my paintings. I’m open to suggestions,” he said before presenting one of his paintings, which showed lines of police officers in Ku Klux Klan hoods on one side and lines of black men in orange jumpsuits on the other. Another painting had African-American men in Old Western-styled rancher outfits and other paintings had faces with copies of old photographs and words pasted onto them.
The words, “Stand up people and unite, fight the system of racism,” were written in between the rows of policemen with Klan hoods.
In the showroom, event organizer Marquita Edwards put on a film taken at the Jim Crow Museum. The film showed the depth of racism in American pop culture as it gave a tour through the museum, which was packed with books, statues and even board games that conveyed hateful depictions of African-Americans. Dr. David Pilgrim, the museum’s curator, narrated the film and explained Jim Crow history, and how the effects of it reaches even to today.
Later in the film, Dr. Pilgrim explained the beginning of art made by African-Americans to reverse hateful images and empower people. Boldacious paralleled this shift in art with its works by Malik and Darron Reed, as well as showcasing traditional and contemporary African-American art in its showroom. The exhibit put up by local artists portrayed the struggles of today, but also gave an empowering vision of the future.
Marquita Edwards explained that she was compelled to visit the museum and bring back photographs after stumbling across the book “Little Brown Koko,” which used racist depictions of African-Americans.
“I wanted to learn about Jim Crow, the racist caricatures and the effect,” Edwards said. She thought it would be something interesting to bring to Milwaukee and to learn about the psychological effects during the Jim Crow era and what’s currently happening today.
“[I wanted] to let people know this part of the history occurred and how devastating it was,” Edwards said, “We don’t want to see it repeat again. So, we have to be inspired and keep moving further.” After meeting Dr. Pilgrim in Big Rapids, Edwards returned to Milwaukee with many photos and a few statues.
Edwards had been volunteering and organizing Gallery Night and Day events at the King Drive Commons for 10 years now. The space was provided by the Dr. Martin Luther King Development Economic Corporation and the event was made possible with a grant from Bader Philanthropies.
Edwards said her goal is to make the King Drive Commons Gallery a place for artists to show their talent, and that she wanted to reach out to youth groups to give them a place to showcase art.