Paul Robeson Galleries Celebrates Newark Arts Festival With Exhibitions and Other Works

"A Question of Time,'' mural by Armisey Smith at the Paul Robeson Campus Center

As the Newark Festival begins October 6, the Paul Robeson Galleries are hosting new exhibitions as part of the celebration and encouraging viewers to check out new murals on campus, created with gallery support.

The presentations are in keeping with the gallery’s mission to honor the life and work of activist and artist Paul Robeson, said the galleries’ director and chief curator Anonda Bell.

“We have a quote from Paul Robeson, ‘Artists are the gatekeepers to truth, they are civilization’s radical voice,’’’ she said.

“Our modus operandi is to be a platform for social commentators and agitators and create ways for people to see things that might be obscured from view or gain a different perspective on things that might be right in front of them,'' she explained.

Although there are two exhibitions at the gallery during arts week– by Kay Reese and kate-hers RHEE –other projects directed or supported by the gallery are also on view around the city during and beyond the festival, which ends October 9.

“I like the idea of having art not as a standalone experience but ideas occur all over the campus, sometimes spontaneously but sometimes in ways that are informal projects,’’ said Bell.

The Newark arts scene is thriving, but there are fewer galleries downtown than there were five years ago. The Robeson Galleries  have helped fill the gap, providing a venue for contemporary artists from a diverse range of backgrounds, said Bell.

Here is a roundup of some of the galleries Newark Arts Festival happenings: 

“Books and Things,’’ by kate-hers RHEE: This solo exhibition, on view in the Window Gallery until December 22, rethinks the concept of the “cabinet of curiosities. RHEE, who calls the work an “interdisiplinary social sculpture,’’ uses a feminist, decolonial lens to examine the collecting practices that existed between Europe and Asia dating from the mid-16th century. 

Tonight, October 6th, there will also be a discussion of the work moderated by the exhibition’s curator Alexa Chang, a Rutgers-Newark associate professor of Practice in the Department of Arts, Culture and Media, and featuring Eleanor Soo-ah Hyun, Associate Curator for Korean Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The event  will be held in the gallery’s Room 213 starting from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

“Kay Reese & 50 Million African Trees'' by Kay Reese: On view at the Paul Robeson Campus Center Gallery, this exhibition of abstract works is curated by Adrienne Wheeler and open until April 6th. Reese, the Robeson Gallery’s Artist in Residence, is an artist and photographer whose pieces were inspired by Kenyan activist Wangarĩ Maathai. Matathai was the first Nobel Prize Environment winner who was Black, African and a woman. Her founding of the Green Peace Movement was pivotal in the economic growth of Kenyans faced with profound government challenges, especially women.

“A Question of Time,’’ Mural by Armisey Smith: At “The Wall” located in the Paul Robeson Campus Center, the inaugural installation of Smith’s mural is on display. It’s part of an ongoing series centering on more than 25,000 artifacts excavated from the building site of the Honors Living-Learning Community during construction. Originally, the Halsey Street Methodist Episcopal Church and adjacent cemetery were located on the site, which later became a parking lot for Hahne’s Department Store.

Over the coming years, the Robeson Galleries will work with people from all walks of life to interpret these materials, and tell various stories about the city of Newark.

The Robeson Galleries commissioned Smith to create “A Question of Time,” which explores the idea of time being stolen from people of color through the trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonialism of the ancient Americas. 

Paul Robeson Murals by Layqa Nuna Yawar. For the 40th anniversary of the gallery in 2020, Yawar, also known as Lenny Correa, created three murals inspired by Robeson’s life and words. Two are installed at Express Newark on Halsey Street during the height of the pandemic. The other is at "the Wall" in the Paul Robeson Campus Center. Now that campus is entirely open, the Arts Festival is a good chance to check them out.