The Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn is home to one of the oldest settlements for free Blacks in New York, and is now home to the “Our Story” art exhibition.
Weeksville has developed over the years to preserve the history cultivated by those who worked, lived and played in the area. “Our Story” was curated by Fulton Art Fair, a local organization dedicated to showcasing fine and performing arts in New York. The exhibition features the work of nine artists and details the “core values” rooted in the Weeksville community: “self determination, ownership, self empowerment, racial equality, and social justice.”
“This is different in the sense that we have addressed the history and core values of Weeksville and the events that lead up to Weeksville, as opposed to just African American individuals,” said the curator of “Our Story” and director of Fulton Art Fair, Larry Weekes.
Weekes explained the process of curating the exhibition included asking the artists to incorporate Weeksville’s core values into their work. Ava Tomlinson is the artist of “Impressions of the Past in Black and White,” a pencil drawing that details a forgotten past of Weeksville. The drawing is based off of a photo by an unknown photographer who documented the area in its early days.
“I love photography and I thought that the photograph was extremely relevant to the current period,” said Tomlinson, a member of Fulton Art Fair. “From a photographer’s point of view, you can see there’s a certain kind of emotion in it, [the art]. I wanted to capture what I thought the photographer was trying to reach in a different medium.”
The image recreated by Tomlinson features the homes of the Weeksville settlement with grander, visibly newer buildings in the background that have faded out. The buildings in the background no longer exist, reminding Tomlinson of what happens with gentrification in the present-day. She believes that the buildings could have been places of employment or refuge.
“I mean it is pretty fancy––this could have been a place where people came and stayed, they could find employment, people could support their families because they knew that someone was working and they had a job there,” said Tomlinson, who heard that the structures could have been a hospital as well.
Other artists such as Sadikisha Collier took different approaches while still conveying the meaning of Weeksville and its Black community. Collier calls her work a conversation piece as it is titled, “What’s Going On.” It features two Black women with afros conversing while carrying Pan-African themed purses as they walk through their community. There are other details that are not upfront, but still central to the message being conveyed.
“In the piece, they [the women] are saying, ‘What’s going on,’” said Collier. “This is the neighborhood we built, our history is here, we had schools, and people who owned property after freedom. I was just distraught because I look at how this is happening now,” as she refers to gentrification in Black Brooklyn.
Collier discusses the details that some might miss if they are not familiar with the environment.
“The background is representing the Weeksville settlement and the bus saying ethnic cleansing, was a better way to say gentrification,” said Collier. “I want people to see that even though we’re dealing with this in the present-day, we’re still keeping our African heritage.”
Harlem-artist Khuumba Ama created “From Africa to Weeksville” to represent the journey to Weeksville for Black settlers. Ama describes her collage piece as “visual storytelling.”
“It starts from the journey of us, in Africa, and I tried to find some symbolism of what life was like for us there,” said Ama. “Then I showed the enslaved experience and from that––the experiences we had in the South.”
“From Africa to Weeksville” details this journey using canvas prints, with each part of this journey represented on a cut-out print. It ranges from images of Black people in traditional African clothing to the horrors of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade to the Weeksville settlement.
“Our Story” opened on Jan. 26 and will run until Saturday, Feb. 19.