The Baobab Cultural Center gives voice to local and regional African-American concerns, joys, and visual talents more frequently than the designated annual Black History Month. Year round, the center serves as an important meeting space for community members, and as a venue for film screenings about African-American and African issues, community dialogue series and art exhibits, and even yoga classes.
Gallery Director Terry Chaka explained that the current exhibition, "No Boundaries: New Expressions in Black Art," is the second in a series of three shows, each representing contemporary African American art from a different age group. The previous show featured 40- to 60-year-old photographers from New York City. "No Boundaries" is a representation of "how we see ourselves," says Chaka, and includes two Rochester- and two Buffalo-based artists ranging in age from 27 to 41, "born post-Civil Rights era," and featuring more technological aspects in the creation and presentation of their work. The final show will feature three artists in their early 70s, who Chaka calls exhibition veterans.
Upon entering the center, viewers will first encounter work by Rochester artist Michelle Harris that discusses the limiting stereotypes and definitions of women and races in American society. "Mudflaps" I & II are mixed-media works made to resemble the pin-up silhouettes often seen on the titular truck accessories. The left silhouette contains names women are called, ranging from the semi-flattering "Shorty," "Betty," and "Princess," to the offensive "Heifer," "Hoochie," and "Bitch."
In Harris' "Three Graces," nude and masked Barbie dolls are grouped in provocative poses together and surrounded by mirrors; as the viewer approaches for a closer look, cat calls and whistles emitted from an electronic element assault the viewer. "Barbie Mirror" is an interactive video installation in which a camera picks up your image as you look on and reflects you in pixels made up by images of the feminine-defining toy.
Photographic work by Harris includes the tender and maternal print, "Feet," as well as more political works in which the artist takes on the ironic persona of Scarlett O'Hara. In "Scarlett Hopes," the artist reaches, in silhouette, for lace curtains and beyond the transitioning day; the image is paired with the film's memorable quote, "After all, tomorrow is another day."
Buffalo-based visual artist and hip-hop MC and producer Edreys Wajed (a.k.a. Billy Drease Wiliams) demonstrates his illustration skills with acrylic and ink works celebrating creative and sustaining forces in black culture. "Strong-Willed" is a work of abstract gold and black, with the title in brass lettering. His "Scarification Series" features linear works in pen and ink of faces with waves and symbols in decorative patterning, and often incorporating birds and plants to show humans and nature in beautiful balance. In "Sing Peace," a female singer emits a bird from her breath, and in "Breathe Life," both a fetus and tree gust from breath. Check out Wajed's music online, particularly his self-illustrated video for "Get Free."