The African American Cultural Center puts on several art exhibitions a year that center on the Black experience. Our exhibitions provide the NC State community with an opportunity to pause, reflect and appreciate Kuumba moments through Black artists. Our second exhibition for the 2021-2022 academic year aims to instill the importance of providing space for our own. In doing so, the African American Cultural Center has intentionally opened an exhibit during the NC State Red+White Week celebration that centers Black alumni on campus. This intentionality allows the entire NC State community to come together and appreciate the contributions that Black alumni have made in the world of art and Black experiences.
Black folx are known to be a people of movement, bringing authenticity and creativity to every space we inhabit, and in these spaces, we actively engage in homemaking. But what is home, particularly for people of the diaspora? How are our communities impacted and shaped when we return home? This exhibit answers those questions. The African American Cultural Center presents Kurudi Nyumbani, an art exhibit that centers on the work of Black alumni artists and their contributions to the greater community. Join us as we celebrate the work of our own.
The African American Cultural Center is pleased to center the work of J. Stacy Utley, Jason Franklin, Britney Symone and Robyn Bess.
Robyn Bess is a digital and film portrait photographer. Her love for photography began at a very young age, picking up the nearest camera and photographing what she saw around her. Her love for photography is shared with her father and grandfather, which makes it that much more special. She recently relocated back to the Charlotte area, and when she’s not behind the camera, she enjoys being a freelance graphic and web designer, or even being a model herself. She appreciates the beauty of capturing authentic moments of life, love, happiness, blackness and more. Her growing passion for film photography has blossomed into a new form of storytelling that she is ready to continue to explore. She experiences and edits every shot differently, ensuring that those who step in front of the camera leave feeling seen. As a Black woman, she will always move with authenticity and hope that it is shown in the art that she creates.
American narrative artist Jason Franklin uses the human form and negative space to narrate past and present stories about his history and culture. He continues to use painting, photography and video to focus on American living, particularly in the South. His work alternates from impressionism to contemporary realism. Typically, he tells quiet stories that resonate after multiple viewings. Franklin’s work is heavily influenced by Lope Max Diaz, Charles E Joyner and Barley Hendricks, which is clearly depicted in the painting “A Trinity.” He is the owner of the Triangle Cultural Art Gallery, LLC in Raleigh, NC, which made him the first African-American to own a cultural art gallery in the city of Raleigh. Jason Franklin is a native of the Triangle area. He holds a B.S. in mathematics education with a minor in art and design (painting) and a Master of Industrial Design with a concentration in illustration from NC State University. He has served the public as an art educator for the past 28 years in settings such as public schools, private schools and universities. Franklin is also an art professor at Shaw University. However, his says his greatest accomplishments are his wife, Katrina (27 years), and his beautiful young adult children: Jason, Ashley, and Jayshaun.
Britney Symone was born in Plainfield, New Jersey in 1996. She started drawing as soon as she could hold a pencil and rarely doubted her passion for the arts while growing up. She spent her childhood sketching, painting, designing and practicing music. She pursued art more intentionally throughout high school, when she attended Durham School of the Arts, began entering art contests and exhibits, and started considering how to make her passion into a long-lasting career that she could love. After graduating from high school, she began practicing digital artwork in early 2015 while studying at a community college. She fell quickly and deeply in love with the craft, enjoying the freedom it offered to create anywhere at any time. She majored in graphic design at NC State University and earned a bachelor’s degree in December 2019. Her work evolved into its current narrative with the piece “Let Black Women Be Soft,” (2018). It comments on the stereotypes that women of color are faced with, challenging the idea that they cannot be soft, emotional and delicate while standing strong in those traits. The signature tears featured in the portraits were born of this stream of thought. Britney is heavily inspired by Mother Nature, world cultures, holistic spirituality, artists of color, Romanticism and the divine feminine. She is drawn to the motif of emotional vulnerability in her work. She finds strength in the softness that comes from opening up and sharing her pieces, which often highlights the delicate, ethereal side of life.
Stacy Utley is a critically acclaimed artist whose work addresses complex narratives found within the African American diaspora. Utley is limitless in his experimentation with the medium, shaping his body of work in ink, watercolor, oil and chalk pastels, acrylics and found or sourced objects. His collages, assemblages, paintings and drawings address the topics of displacement, cultural appropriation, religion, race, mental illness and sexuality, conversant topics of the African American community that shape identities and are not always comfortable to discuss. Utley is a graduate of NC State’s College of Design, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture. His career as an architect/designer has both influenced and provided a rich source for his work. He went on to receive a Master of Fine Art from Lesley University College of Art and Design in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Utley has shown nationally and internationally, exhibiting his work in solo and numerous group exhibitions that include the 2021 Venice Biennale Architectura for his collaboration with Evoke Studio for the Five Points Plaza public artwork. His executed works can be found in private, public and university collections including NC State University and Johnson C. Smith University.
We look forward to welcoming the NC State Community to experience the Kurudi Nyumbani exhibition. The exhibition will be up until Dec. 3, 2021.
Isaiah Lucas is program coordinator in the African American Cultural Center.