Famed civil rights activist and writer James Baldwin wrote in his essay The Creative Process that “A society must assume that it is stable, but the artist must know, and he must let us know, that there is nothing stable under heaven.”  

Using this quote as a focal point, Northampton’s Oxbow Gallery recently held an exhibition entitled Nothing Stable Under Heaven The exhibit is a showcase of multidisciplinary artwork by Black artists from four states (Massachusetts, New York, Ohio and Vermont). Producer Dave Fraser visited the Gallery recently to bring us the story. 

Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Famed Civil Rights activist and writer James Baldwin wrote in his essay The Creative Process, that, quote, A society must assume that it is stable, but the artist must know and he must let us know, that there is nothing stable under heaven.

Using these words as a focal point, Northampton Oxbow Gallery held an exhibition recently entitled Nothing Stable Under Heaven. It’s a showcase of multidisciplinary art work by Black artists from four states. And producer Dave Fraser visited the gallery recently to bring us this story.

Dave Fraser, Connecting Point: An exhibit that showcases Black artists is a first for the Oxbow Gallery in Northampton. Nothing Stable Under Heaven is the title taken from an essay by James Baldwin, in which he claims the role of the artist in society is to reveal its inherent instability.

Artist Mars Champagne works in multimedia, specializing in drawing, dance, mixed media, and photography.

Mars Champagne, Artist: And this piece I call “Order in Disorder.” And I relate that to my life, and maybe a lot of us can relate to that in our lives during this time of COVID, of having a lot of disorder, but still having…I’ll guess I’ll call it like, ourselves collected to the point of still functioning.

Dave Fraser: Andrew “Moon” Bain selected several pieces of work from his collection, all of which he says is an attempt at challenging cultural norms and redrafting racial authorities, while drawing references from dreams, current events, history, and honoring the earth and indigenous ancestries.

Andrew “Moon” Bain, Artist: So, I was pulling out a lot of older work and drawings and things that I hadn’t thought about for years, and started to look at them again and kind of add little touches to them. So, that was a lot of fun.

Dave Fraser: On a recent Saturday, the gallery hosted an open house to let the public meet the artists. People gathered outside, taking turns entering the space, trying to adhere to COVID restrictions.

Inside, Emily Roman talked about her self-portrait that reflects the intersection of her childhood memories growing up in Puerto Rico and her dreams for the future.

Emily Roman, Artist: I create mostly for myself and my people. And by saying my people, Boricuas and I want my people to connect with it. I want them to look at it and go, Oh my God, that gives me vibes of Louisa, or that gives me I want to go to the beach, or I want to go straight to San Juan, get me on a plane. I want that feeling from them.

Dave Fraser: In the center of the gallery sits to pieces by John Hughes. Hughes has studied music, song, and dance of West Africa for almost 30 years. He admits he is uncomfortable labeling his work as Black art.

John Hughes, Artist: I guess I’m of two minds about the show. One is it’s important to create the opportunity for people of color who have, generally speaking, been disenfranchised to have a forum. And it’s important for people in a mostly white town to see that there are people of color amongst them, hiding in the cracks, and to see their work.

Dave Fraser: The age range of the artists involved span eight decades. Artist Bobby Brown is a retired kindergarten teacher from Cambridge.

Bobby Brown, Artist: In observing the kids, the young five and six year olds, they don’t have a plan. They just mess around with stuff. And then sometimes they see something they like. And so I thought, well, I can do that.

Dave Fraser: One artist not present was Beatrice Mitchell, whose poem entitled “Rote Learning” was accompanied by images created by Greenfield artist Gloria Matlock.

Gloria Matlock, Artist: I basically put the picture with a poem, but I wanted to do it in a way that there was some color to it. I love colors, and I just wanted it so people could look at the picture and be more attracted to the pictures. And then, you know, with the poem along with the poem.

Dave Fraser: The exhibit runs through April 25th at the Oxbow Gallery in Northampton.

Mars Champagne: Living in a place like this, I feel like there’s a lot of European representation of artwork. And to have like such a gifted artist here being represented is a real source of change, to show artists that they can make it too, that Black artists can create and that it is a viable source of of living and being to be an artist.