Figures blended as they dashed to admire the next piece, making the streets of Downtown look as if they too were a work of art. Those figures came together on July 10 to attend The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Gallery Crawl and Night Market. The Gallery Crawl is a free quarterly showcase of art and entertainment in the heart of the Cultural District in Downtown Pittsburgh, with stops at various locations, while the Night Market showcases local vendors and their clothing, or jewelry specialties.
Among the rows of vendors was Djoi Designs, owned by Florence Smith who the Trust confirmed was the only African American vendor that night. Smith, who named her line after her children, her son Dee and her daughter Onsaya Joi, has a passion for fashion and creates intricate jewelry and purses by hand. She said she discovered the Night Market a few years ago while working with I Made It! Market. She had been on I Made It’s website and saw a list of available vending opportunities which sparked her interest.
A participant for some years now, Smith said the nice atmosphere and people are what keep her coming back and makes the Night Market one of her favorite markets in Pittsburgh.
“The Black Community needs more entrepreneurs,” Smith said, adding that she is trying to be a role model for her children—from an entrepreneurial perspective—and leave a legacy.
As people moved from place to place, an exhibit called “Wall Paintings” was nearing completion inside of a gallery named SPACE. SPACE, located on Liberty Avenue, showcases the works of local and upcoming artists. The exhibited consisted of 12 artists who created large paintings on the gallery’s walls using standard latex house paint. The creation of the paintings served as a live art event where artists worked throughout the day of Gallery Crawl, drawing crowds of onlookers. Among the twelve artists were African American guest artists Ramon Riley, Alphonso Sloan and Steve Prince.
Riley, an art teacher in the Pine Richland School District, created the piece “LoveLocks” which is inspired by the Pont des Arts Bridge in Paris, where people show love for another by putting a lock on the bridge and throwing the key in the river. His piece depicts this growing practice on Pittsburgh’s Clemente Bridge.
“When you walk the bridge, you may not know the names of the people in love, but the lock tells us that love exists. So, when we cross the bridge, we walk in the presence of love. I think that’s a nice thought. I wanted to bring this to our attention for the show ‘Wall Paintings,”’ Riley said.
He felt it an honor to be invited by guest curator Robert Raczka to participate in “Wall Paintings”, but a challenge as well. Riley had to think about his process differently. Most of Riley’s work involves pouring a mix of watercolor paints and inks onto a paper resting flat on the ground, where he then draws and paints imagery into the unplanned shapes. Creating a painting on a wall was a challenge that eliminated that part of his process. He says that his poured work would have taken days to dry before he could work with oil paint, and this piece had to be created in nine hours. In addition, oil paint was not permitted for this event.
“The event on July 10 had such great energy. The audience was spectacular. I was so proud of our city! I hope people seeing the exhibition now feel the love and energy from that night,” he said.
Prince, a professor at Allegheny College, was also invited to participate in the event by Raczka. Prince’s piece, titled “O Come, O Come Emanuel” is a tribute to the nine slain at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17. Prince said the work is a praise, or lament piece, that champions the enduring spirit of those who were prematurely stolen from this earth. He created three figures in the foreground to represent the Trinity (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit), dancing and expressing the sorrow and pain of loss, while also evoking a spirit of renewal. In the background stands six female and three male figures, bright and colorful, representing the Charleston nine.
“The figures transform into stain glass windows and postulates that their bodies may have been slain, but their spirits endure forever as a part of that church and in the hearts of generations to come.” Prince said. “It is my hope that viewers can feel the emotion and lament of the dancers, but also see the spirit of renewal symbolized by the handkerchief fluttering above like a white dove/Holy Spirit, covering and protecting the dancers.”
Prince also said that he is deeply inspired by the human condition and is attempting to make art that not only addresses historical concerns, but that fosters change and healing. He has been saddened by the events that have occurred over the past years, such as the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, to name a few.
“I cannot help but think about the peril of my own sons trying to navigate and grow up in a contested nation stained by the heinous history of race relations,” Prince said.
Making his way into a crowded SPACE to catch a glimpse of “Wall Paintings” was Brandon Small. Small discovered the Gallery Crawl through a friend who is an art history major at Pitt.
“She’s very into the galleries here, so she invited me cause she knows I’m really into art,” said Small about how he discovered the Gallery Crawl.
His love of art, as well as free beer, is what keeps Small coming back. This was his third time attending a Gallery Crawl and he said he attends at least once a year.
“I go to galleries all the time,” he said. “I really like to see new things. I feel like every year it’s something completely different and they always really surprise me. It’s really cool to see up and coming artist.”
As for African American participation in the Gallery Crawl and Night Market, Small feels it’s positive for everyone to feel included in the celebration of art as well as participate.
He said, “It’s awesome, as long as everyone’s included and everyone’s into it. Black inclusion, as well as all people of all colors – everyone’s different, it’s very important to have diversity, and be included in art.”
(SPACE will showcase “Wall Paintings” through Aug. 20. For more information on the exhibit or the gallery, call 412-325-772.)