Direct from the Sunshine State: Augusta Savage Gallery celebrates its namesake with group show from Florida

Adrienne Chadwick, right, talks with Kandy G Lopez about Chadwick’s installation, “For Descendants Yet To Come,” at the Augusta Savage Gallery at UMass Amherst.

Adrienne Chadwick, right, talks with Kandy G Lopez about Chadwick’s installation, “For Descendants Yet To Come,” at the Augusta Savage Gallery at UMass Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

“As We Move Forward,” at the Augusta Savage Gallery at UMass Amherst, includes work by 17 BIPOC women artists from Florida. Tthe show is in part an homage to Savage, the seminal Black sculptor who was born in Florida in 1892.

“As We Move Forward,” at the Augusta Savage Gallery at UMass Amherst, includes work by 17 BIPOC women artists from Florida. Tthe show is in part an homage to Savage, the seminal Black sculptor who was born in Florida in 1892. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Artists and architect Sydney Rose Maubert stands by her paint on fabric work, “Cartographies of Braiding,” at “As We Move Forward” in the Augusta Savage Gallery at UMass Amherst.

Artists and architect Sydney Rose Maubert stands by her paint on fabric work, “Cartographies of Braiding,” at “As We Move Forward” in the Augusta Savage Gallery at UMass Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Kandy G Lopez, one of the 17 Florida-based artists who contributed to “As We Move Forward,” is seen by her two paint and fabric pieces, “Miyako in the City” and “Hispaniola.” 

Kandy G Lopez, one of the 17 Florida-based artists who contributed to “As We Move Forward,” is seen by her two paint and fabric pieces, “Miyako in the City” and “Hispaniola.”  STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Curator and UMass art professor Juana Valdes, seen here with work by Chire “Vanta Black” Regans at “As We Move Forward,” says the UMass exhibit is designed to honor the legacy of Augusta Savage, the seminal Black sculptor who was born in Florida.

Curator and UMass art professor Juana Valdes, seen here with work by Chire “Vanta Black” Regans at “As We Move Forward,” says the UMass exhibit is designed to honor the legacy of Augusta Savage, the seminal Black sculptor who was born in Florida. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Sydney Rose Maubert says her small sculpture “Goldz” is in part an homage to Augusta Savage and the connection she feels to the famous sculptor.

Sydney Rose Maubert says her small sculpture “Goldz” is in part an homage to Augusta Savage and the connection she feels to the famous sculptor. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

“Aalijah (Twirl),” chalk on archival black paper by Chris  Friday

“Aalijah (Twirl),” chalk on archival black paper by Chris  Friday Staff Photo/Steve Pfarrer

“Asake Series,” a mixed media assemblage on wood, is one of numerous works by Florida artists in “As We Move Forward” at the Augusta Savage Gallery at UMass Amherst.

“Asake Series,” a mixed media assemblage on wood, is one of numerous works by Florida artists in “As We Move Forward” at the Augusta Savage Gallery at UMass Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Diana Eusebio’s “Matriarca” includes a digital photo presented on quilted cotton fabric that’s dyed with powder made from Cochineal bugs.

Diana Eusebio’s “Matriarca” includes a digital photo presented on quilted cotton fabric that’s dyed with powder made from Cochineal bugs. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass Fine Arts Center director Jamilla Deria, from left, Kandy G Lopez, curator Juana Valdes, Adrienne Chadwick, Sydney Rose Maubert, Mari Castaneda, and Yolanda Covington-Ward enjoy a reception at “As We Move Forward” at the Augusta Savage Gallery.

UMass Fine Arts Center director Jamilla Deria, from left, Kandy G Lopez, curator Juana Valdes, Adrienne Chadwick, Sydney Rose Maubert, Mari Castaneda, and Yolanda Covington-Ward enjoy a reception at “As We Move Forward” at the Augusta Savage Gallery. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Florida artist Adrienne Chadwick based her installation “For Descendants Yet To Come” on her family history, which includes connections to Belize and Canada.

Florida artist Adrienne Chadwick based her installation “For Descendants Yet To Come” on her family history, which includes connections to Belize and Canada. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Guests explore the exhibit “As We Move Forward” during a recent reception at the Augusta Savage Gallery at UMass Amherst.

Guests explore the exhibit “As We Move Forward” during a recent reception at the Augusta Savage Gallery at UMass Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 03-08-2024 5:21 PM

Augusta Savage rose to prominence as a sculptor and educator when she moved to New York City in the 1920s, where she soon became a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance.

But Savage, who was also a determined advocate for equal rights for African American artists, was born in Florida (in 1892) and first began forging her art there.

Now the University of Massachusetts Amherst gallery named after her is honoring her legacy with a group exhibit of BIPOC women artists with roots in, or connections to, southern Florida — a show designed both to showcase a new generation of artists and recall the way Savage championed community.

“As We Move Forward,” on display at the Augusta Savage Gallery through May 10, features varied work — photographs, textiles, sculpture, video, mixed media constructions — from 17 artists who range in age from their early 20s to mid-40s and whose work broadly explores themes of identity, feminism, Black history and family.

A number of the artists also have roots or connections to the Caribbean — Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti — and their work explores Afro-Caribbean traditions and themes, such as the fabric portraits created by Kandy G Lopez, who’s featured on the cover of this spring’s issue of American Craft magazine.

If it’s not that common for area galleries to feature group exhibits by artists entirely outside the region, “As We Move Forward” has a key link to the Valley through co-curator Juana Valdes, a UMass professor of art who grew up partly in Miami — she was born in Cuba — and has also taught in Florida.

Valdes, who came to UMass in 2015, earned her degrees in New York City and Maine and later taught in a number of places in the Northeast and New England before spending about five years at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

“It was through my time there, taking part in residencies and showing work in different places, that I slowly got to know this community of artists” in southern Florida, Valdes said at a recent reception for the UMass show.

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“I loved the diversity of their work,” said Valdes, whose own art includes ceramics, printmaking, video, and more that explores “issues of race, transnationalism, gender, labor, and class,” as her website puts it.

A couple years ago, Valdes said, Alexia Cota, the former interim director of the Augusta Savage Gallery, approached her about putting together a group show, something Valdes was definitely interested in, especially in a space named after the famed sculptor.

Savage “was one of my heroes,” said Valdes. “I’m a woman, I’m a sculptor, and I can’t even imagine how hard it must have been for her to succeed.”

In that era of segregation and flat-out racism, to be a successful Black artist, and a woman artist to boot, Valdes added, “You would have to have an incredible amount of courage and faith in what you’re doing.”

The decision to stage “As We Move Forward” was cemented last September after she took part in a symposium, “Still Here,” at the University of Miami’s Center for Global Black Studies that was designed to advance scholarship on Black Miami art and artists.

Being part of that event and meeting other artists “just grounded the whole idea of doing this exhibit,” Valdes said. “It felt like this was the right thing, the right moment.”

And giving the southern Florida artists exposure here is also in keeping with Augusta Savage’s mentoring of young artists “and just kind of passing the torch, helping artists along, helping build this community,” she added.

Ultimately, Valdes and her co-curator, Nhadya Lawes, an interdisciplinary scholar and arts professional based in Miami, looked at work from 30 artists for the UMass show before settling on the 17 women who are included.

Crossing borders

Family and community is one notable thread in the exhibit. “Hey Y’all,” a black and white photo by documentary photographer Symone Titania Major, is a jaunty, good-natured portrait of four women standing outside an apartment building, alongside two small children and an old bicycle.

Nearby is a color self-portrait by Arsimmer McCoy, a poet and photographer who holds formal, framed photographs of her mother and grandmother (the title of the piece is “Arsimmer III”).

In addition, a mixed-media installation by Adrienne Chadwick, who was born in Canada but has roots in Belize, is built around old photos, letters, a telegram, an address book and other mementos to tell a story of family history and crossing borders.

One old photo, of a young couple holding hands in Belize in 1966, has been modified through machine sewing and typed words to become a handmade love letter.

Sydney Rose Maubert, one of a number of the participating artists who came to the gallery for the reception, has contributed two distinct works to the show, including a small (3-inch) self-portrait sculpture/pendant of bronze (with a gold veneer) that Maubert says is an homage to Augusta Savage.

“I was interested that we both came out of South Florida, we both painted portraits (for extra income),” said Maubert, who has Cuban and Haitian heritage. “It’s kind of a playful piece but one that still makes a reference to Augusta Savage today.”

Maubert is an architect — she has degrees from Yale University and the University of Miami and currently teaches at Cornell University — who uses painting as part of her design process. She’s explored Black history, too: Her second piece at the UMass show, “Cartographies of Braiding,” is an acrylic on fabric painting of four Black women that Maubert says was inspired in part by her study of slavery in New Haven, Connecticut in early America.

And Kandy G Lopez, the fabric artist, said she was excited to be part of the exhibit: “I think we’ve all been inspired in some way by Augusta Savage.”

Her small fabric and painted artworks in the show, “Miyako in the City” and “Hispaniola,” depict Afro-Caribbean figures in colorful clothes; they’re essentially studies for her larger works, Lopez noted, which typically are about 8 x 5 feet.

Valdes credits her co-curator, Nhadya Lawes, for selecting work from some of the younger artists in the show, who have contributed a number of videos and expressionist works, like the chalk on archival black paper drawings by Chris Friday of a young woman dancing; they have an almost 3-D appearance.

“It is such a pleasure to me to be able to give this kind of exposure to our artists, especially the younger ones,” said Valdez. “I feel like we’re carrying on the work of Augusta Savage.”

A curators’ talk for “As We Move Forward” takes place at the gallery April 4 at 6 p.m.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.