Two new shows at Gallery Aferro include the work of several artists from the School of Arts & Sciences-Newark.
In the main gallery, “Tell Me More About Yourself (Self-Portraits and Other Autobiographical Endeavors)”, curated by Juno Zago, features self-portraits of 71 artists, including Arts, Culture & Media (ACM) faculty Anthony Alvarez and Emanuel Cacciatore, and alumni Noelle Lorraine Williams and Bryant LeBron. According to the Gallery Aferro website, the goal of the show “is for artists to present any work they feel depicts and reflects their true thoughts and form, regardless of whether they imbue the work with their physical image.”
“Flow: Neo-Latino Collective,” highlighting the work of the international, multigenerational artist organization, while paying tribute to its founder, is curated by ACM alumna Lisette Morel and includes a painting by ACM alumnus Hugo X. Bastidas. Morel, who is also a member of the collective and a former Gallery Aferro artist-in-residence, said she envisioned the viewer “flowing” through the exhibit, taking in the diversity of the individual artists’ expressions. “Everyone individually was approaching similar themes, but in their own manner,” said Morel.
Tell Me More
Anthony Alvarez, who is the Assistant Director at Shine Portrait Studio at Express Newark as well as a part-time lecturer at ACM, uses light and movement to reflect on the self and the greater collective consciousness in his moody “Untitled #33”, part of a continuing body of work titled “If Only I could Pray.”
“As a photographer working primarily in self-portraiture, I have always been drawn to the GoIden Age of Dutch and Spanish ‘master painters,’” said Alvarez, whose use of color and warm light evokes the 17th century paintings he admires. “Through their paintings, they expIored light and the absence of light the same way a photographer does. These influences have a way of consistently showing up throughout my practice.”
He added that the idea of ritual and repetition, meditation and prayer were central to this series of self-portraits. “My photography practice reflects on and contemplates ritual and qualities associated with meditation and prayer practices, such as repetition of movements and vibrations toward which the concept of self is transcended.”
“It creates a space where both the viewer and I can get lost in the movements where these vibrations come in and out of alignment and explore various connections and find meanings.”
Emanual Cacciatore, who teaches courses in printmaking, drawing, photography, and art history, says his piece, “Provisional Perspective,” is the first painting he’s created that depicts a combination of realistic imagery and his more typical nonrepresentational work. He was inspired by a project he assigns to his Intro to Drawing class at Rutgers-Newark to work on his own series of self-portraits.
“My self-portrait image included in the Aferro Gallery show depicts a portrait of myself in a relatively naturalistic manner juxtaposed with my experimental and process-oriented method of creating non-representational paintings.”
Alumnus Bryant LeBron, who received his BFA from Rutgers-Newark in 2015, describes his painting, “Hokage of the Hidden Debt Village,” as a self-portrait depicted as Kakashi Hatake from the Japanese anime series Naruto, wearing a shinobi headband of a dollar sign.
"While self-portraiture can be self-explanatory, I chose to share a minute detail by creating a self-portrait in my usual style with an anime aesthetic,” said LeBron, who added that he’s been recently experimenting with creating a new series of work based on self-portraiture.
“I've been exploring self-portraiture more outside of the literal sense, where instead of representing the physical self, I like to delve more into conceptual themes,” he said.
Noelle Lorraine Williams’ photograph is part of a series of surreal images she created in 2006-07. “In it my character 'Mala', meaning bad or ruined in Spanish, but also the word for a certain type of prayer bead in another [Sanskrit] - wakes up almost 40 years after the Newark Rebellion,” said Williams. “It was an honor that Stafford Woods, a Newark photographer, helped me photograph my storyboard and make this project real.”
In the series (seen here), Williams says Mala "wakes up and wonders what happened and where everyone is - particularly her activist comrades. In this specific image the abandoned buildings have poppies emerging as a symbol of the drugs that were flooded into inner city communities and used as an excuse to disenfranchise and heighten police violence in Black communities.”
Williams, who received her M.A. in American Studies from Rutgers-Newark in 2020 and is a New Jersey State Council on the Arts Fellow, says self-portraiture is important to her work. “As a public humanities specialist my practice includes being an artist, a historian, a researcher, and even a convener of sorts. But at its roots is my 4-year-old urge to understand the city and Black liberation. In a way I continue to ask these questions.”
Williams is also currently displaying a series of billboards on the former site of the Westinghouse Factory next to NJ Transit's Newark Broad Street station. Part of the Newark Artists Collaboration with Audible and titled “Monumental Newark,” each billboard depicts the former sites in gold against photos of the contemporary landscape. She says they respond to the question, “Where are the lost buildings and monuments of Black liberation in Newark?”
“For these, I edited the photo in an Ansel Adams style - to nod how to people of color histories are often frozen in time and dispossessed in the city.” The series can be viewed at www.blackpower19thcentury.com.
Go With the Flow
The idea for an exhibit featuring the work of the Neo-Latino Collective first came to alumna Lisette Morel ('98) in late 2021. When she broached it to the gallery, she didn’t expect to be asked to curate the show, but she enthusiastically said yes. As a member of the collective, she was familiar with their work, but sifting through the artists’ pieces and reading about it in their words gave her a deeper appreciation for their processes. “I was going through their studio spaces, and that’s what I envisioned the viewer to do, so the word ‘flow’ just came out.”
“I titled it flow because I felt like they [the artists] were calling out their process into existence. We got to see it on the walls and then we got to see Nelson Alvarez do a live drawing of his chalkboard piece at the opening.”
The Neo-Latino Collective was founded in 2003 by the late Raúl Villarreal as a way to bring together a community of contemporary Latinx artists. “He was just this mastermind, assembling us all into this group,” said Morel. “No one said no to Raúl.” In addition to showcasing current members of the collective, the show also pays tribute to Villareal, who passed away in 2019.
The collective is based in NJ but with a community branching across the United States and beyond, and its members identify as Columbian, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Argentinian and more. The group has produced events and exhibitions in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. Their work is equally varied, ranging from painting to performance arts to video and light installations. “It’s this very dynamic group of people,” said Morel. “Looking at the multi layers that it is to be Latino, Latinx. There’s no one right or wrong way to represent.”
Morel’s own work is just as diverse. She began as a painter, and her practice has broadened to include installation/site-specific works, assemblage and performance. She embraces these as organic extensions of her body, which help her navigate, question, blur and challenge set boundaries within systems. Most recently, Lisette has been known to perform with her daughters, friends and neighbors in recurring endurance collaborations.
Intentionally or not, the two shows are in conversation with each other, both exploring identity and self-awareness. “Everyone is examining and questioning their ancestral background, spirituality, the environment, identity,” said Morel.
“We’re all bringing something different to the table, but we’re all creating,” she adds, sharing how one visitor had really appreciated the diversity in styles and art across the show and that what had resonated most was how it made him realize not all art has to look the same. “That’s what I wanted, I wanted everyone to be stirred in some way, emotionally or personally, and I think it happened.”
Morel is currently also exhibiting at the Quinlan Visual Arts Center in Georgia as part of a group show, called “Something to Declare,” which features 25 artists from 12 different Latin American countries, as well as being part of the online “In the Wilderness” residency run by The Interior Beauty Salon.
Both shows will be on view at Gallery Aferro through August 5, 2022.