Celebrating Black Possibility


BY Ann J. Goodman Lieb

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CAFED’S creative art show and cultural event - BLACK POSSIBILITIES -ran from June 7-24, 2022 at El Barrio Artspace, P.S. 103 in New York City. It was a dynamic celebration of 11 artists and photographers, musicians, poets, choreographer, playwrights, and architecture- all from the African Diaspora.

Nelson Soto, Visionary Founder of CAFED – Collective Artists For Ethnic Diversity- shared on Facebook Live and at this show’s Opening Night, June 10, about his fantastic dream for the CAFED community. “Our artists come from traditionally marginalized communities and have the desire to create magnificent masterpieces that are beautiful and enduring. My mission is to open up everyone’s eyes to this and through their art unite people together. Artists are the vessels, capable of creating change and I feel the urgency to support their work. People from all over are connecting, as I shine a light on artists of the black, brown and indigenous community. I see -with excitement - our artists networking, cooperating with each other, stepping forward, and rising, as they share their works with viewers who recognize, treasure and buy what they desire and love.”

The show BLACK POSSIBILITIES encompassed many genres and talents in addition to artwork. Nelson Soto further illuminated, “I feel that the Black community has given so much to the world, enriching us with music, dance and choreography, poetry and the spoken word, dramatic productions, and architectural design. This show will feature all of that!”

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I personally had the pleasure of speaking with several artists and photographers about their creations. I marvel -my awe is and admiration is real, and over the top- because my young grandchildren and I compare our stick figure drawings. The competition between us, to win, is fierce.

Steven McKenzie, a young visual artist, a creator who uses many mediums in his process told me that he is influenced by Black people, specifically the beauty and elegance of women, their regal nature, as the women in his family were and are leaders. “I am fascinated by the culture, the costuming, the history of the African Diaspora, where people came from in the African continent and where they went. Black people come in all shades of color, and I use various pigments to highlight the many skin tones. I use pops of color, yellow for inviting lips, a vibrant floral print reminiscent of African patterns. The women’s hair looks real, and I paint the different textures and lengths.”

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Jefte Valle, inadvertently picked up a paintbrush several years ago and discovered that he had an amazing gift. “I’m prolific. I place paintings all around me. I love portraits and seascapes. I also delve deep, doing research in historical societies and then I paint.”

I was touched by his painting KOKOBALE. “Puerto Rico and all the islands were gateways for the incoming slave-ships. In Africa, the men practiced a form of martial arts using machetes. But, when they lived as slaves in the Caribbean, “it” became a dance, practiced to rhythmic Bamba music. They now used sticks instead of machetes.”

A simple fun-filled excursion with family inspires Jeff into a deeper introspection, and then he is moved to paint. “Our family took a day trip to the Brooklyn Bridge on a cloudy day. I thought about my parents coming as immigrants from Puerto Rico, and crossing the bridge to Manhattan every day from Brooklyn to work in the sewing factories.”

Curator of the show Albert Justiniano asks the question- through his series of FRAGMENTED TAINO paintings- where do I belong, where do I fit in, who am I? Am I American, Black, Spanish, or Taino (the indigenous people who lived in Puerto Rico and all the islands) “Genealogy showed I had Taino blood. I could feel it. The Taino cultivated their own food, smoked cigars and burned incense.”

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Ron Louis’ Foster’s photography expanded my enthusiasm for travel, and adventure. His artwork is full of exciting life experiences and discoveries. I was captivated by the fact that he quit his regular day job, becoming a professional photographer, traveling with his camera to exotic lands; South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, the Middle East and many more.

“I was traveling in South Africa, on the way from photographing lions and tigers. I came to a lodging area, and I saw two elephants splashing together, one rising up out of the water. Elephants love playing in the water! I call this photograph BO DEREK (he has a great sense of humor and I laughed often), even though I think the elephant here is male.” I had recently watched a video about elephants, so I was delighted when Ron enthusiastically shared first- hand knowledge about this marvelous creature. “Elephants are extremely intelligent. The females are the matriarchs, with all the migration information from their ancestors, generations upon generation of knowledge, encoded in their DNA, so they know where to direct the herd. The female leader remains in charge until her end.”

Ron’s photography has been featured in National Geographic (his photo was chosen out of 15,000 submitted) and the New Yorker magazine which published a spectacular shot of a volcanic eruption of Iceland’s Theater Hill. “I heard this volcano was erupting for the first time in eighty years. I bought hiking gear and traveled over quickly. It was a steep 2,000-foot climb with winds blowing at 65 miles per hour. I had to be very quick, getting in and out in forty-five minutes. I made it!”

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I am absorbed by the richness of Marienne Yen Thomas’s unique style, and the versatility of the messages and insights crafted within her paintings. Busy with family matters for many years, Yen as she likes to be called, is once again turning her attention to the creative process.

“ROOTS was inspired by George Floyd’s death. This is the glory of the family! We are here! We belong here! The father is present and not going anywhere. The young baby demonstrates our continuation.” Viewer Kathy was mesmerized by this painting. “I find comfort and safety, story and family roots.”

“BLACK GIRLS WHITE DOLL is the story of my three- year- old self and that ah ha moment, a moment of realization that my doll, my dearest friend, had a different skin color and very different hair from mine. That was my first doll and I had rushed home from preschool to comb her hair, discovering that my sister had put rollers in her hair.”

“READY SET GO commemorates Juneteenth. Minority women can stand now in front of the flag, but we are always on the move. We can pause to celebrate success, but the race is never done!”

I had spoken before to Yen during the PHENOMENAL WOMEN’S ART SHOW as two of her pieces were featured there. I was immediately struck by her painting of a female angel – a ball and chain weighing down one leg, while she soared upward with multi-colored huge wings unfurled, an expression of sheer joy and spiritual connection on her face. Letting go of the past, anything tight that constricts and squeezes the life force, kicking away that which no longer serves the new you, the new me, is a must in order to climb to new heights. It’s rarely an easy process, because we live within the ponderous density and gravity of Earth school. But there is a treasure -just observe Yen’s angel- at the end of the rainbow, and that treasure is the full beauty and integrity of you!

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Celebrating Black Possibilities


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Nelson Soto:

Artist, Teacher, Husband, Father, Puerto Rican New Yorker!

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