Kick off celebration (Brenika Banks photo)

The Harlem Fine Arts Show is gearing up to celebrate its 15th anniversary of providing a space for artists of African, Caribbean and Black descent to showcase their African Diaspora-inspired artworks. The traveling art show will return in person for the first time, on Friday, Feb. 24, since the COVID-19 pandemic. The show’s 15th-year celebration marks a major change of location—it will be at the Glasshouse venue in nearby Chelsea, NYC, not at its previous location at Riverside Church in Morningside Heights.

“It really was a sentimental place for the Harlem Fine Arts Show, always being able to come back and be successful there,” said Dion Clarke, founder and president of the Harlem Fine Arts Show, of the Riverside Church venue.   

According to Clarke, the art show has outgrown its upper Manhattan origins and is ready to take a “new leap” to its new home. Clarke is excited about this historical moment; midtown Manhattan has not hosted a large African Diasporic art show owned and operated by multicultural individuals before. The president of the art show is looking forward to visitors and to seeing how lower Manhattan will embrace the artworks. “I’d also like to find out how the artists are really feeling about being in midtown Manhattan, because Harlem is always going to be in our hearts,” said Clarke.

“I like the ambiance of the Riverside Church,” said Lisa Dubois, a long-time exhibitor in the Harlem Fine Arts Show. The art and photography curator has been an exhibitor with the art show for the past 10 years. Dubois appreciated having the show closer to Harlem rather than closer to Chelsea. She believes the art show’s location at the Riverside Church made the show more unique than its planned new home. Dubois views the art show as more special in Harlem instead of midtown, where numerous other art galleries are located. “I also like the fact that [the church] is one of the most beautiful buildings [in] Harlem,” she said. “It’s a landmark with rich history; that’s what made it so special.” 

According to the ÌMỌ̀ DÁRA 2022 State of the African Art Market report, physical galleries remain around 45% of the way that most collectors purchase their art. On a global scale, the Art Market 2022 report shows that 69% of people preferred live or in-person viewing at a gallery or fair most when viewing and considering art for sale. Both reports indicate that people are motivated to buy art when they experience it in person. 

“I’m looking forward to admiring the other artists and to definitely show my style of what’s going on artistically,” said Roosevelt “Black Rose” Taylor. The master painter, air brusher and visual artist’s designs focus on the Harlem Renaissance era, with pieces that reflect the nightlife of jazz clubs, such as Minton’s and the Savoy, at their peaks. He is making his debut at this year’s show as it returns in person. 

Taylor emphasized how special it was for saxophonist Henry Minton to open Minton’s Playhouse in 1938. Billie Holiday, Roy Eldridge and Charlie Christian were some of the many famous jazz musicians who helped revolutionize jazz in that historical establishment. “They created a higher level of jazz because everybody was trying to do it, but they made something that was one of a kind,” said Taylor “That’s what I want to show the world.”

Taylor credits Harlem with being the trendsetter for nightlife, music, fashion and dance. He is also thrilled to be celebrating 15 years as a professional artist, coinciding with the Harlem Fine Arts show’s 15th-year celebration. “This is historic not just for me, but for the Harlem Fine Arts show with me being a part of it.”

In previous years, the Harlem Fine Arts Show displayed most works from African American artists. This year will usher in global, newer exhibitors such as the Soweto Fine Art gallery from Johannesburg, South Africa, and Sanusi Olatunji, also from South Africa. Band of Vices LLC gallery from Los Angeles, Calif., will also make its debut at this year’s celebration. The E&S Gallery, Inc., Louisville, Ky., will return to the art show along with Dubois, who enjoys being part of celebrating African arts. 

Dubois’s pieces for this year’s show are inspired by stolen African artifacts including bronzes from Benin. She is encouraging people to research how the British confiscated many African artifacts through her works.

“We are still trying to get them out of the British Museums and back to where they belong,” said Dubois. “It’s a long, hard road, so that was my inspiration for my images.” She added human characteristics, including eyes, to her Benin-inspired creations to humanize Africans. “I gave them eyes to give them more humanity because they were obviously modeled after someone, so that’s like a tribute to them.” Dubois hopes her series will inspire visitors to the show to learn about the stolen artifacts and statues of not only Benin, but other African countries, that are still misplaced in European spaces. “I want people to look at these images and know where they’re from, not just looking at a collage, but that it becomes a learning experience that enlightens more people.” 

Taylor is looking forward to many people coming to visit the show next month. “It’s an amazing moment and I want everybody to come out and come get artistically involved.” He anticipates watching other art admirers come and experience his artwork for its unique storytelling that captures the Harlem Renaissance era. He wishes for everyone who purchases his artwork to live in the specific moment of time he recreated.  “Being from Harlem, I’m going to be true to Harlem and represent it well,” said Taylor. “I’m giving visuals to a past that is no more.” 

Clarke said he’s looking forward to everyone’s happiness and excitement of the art show’s in-person return. He is eager to see this year’s artists feeling proud and empowered by their own artwork. “It’s great to work with the sororities and other types of organizations that empower our community; I’m excited.” 

Clarke predicts around 10,000 in-person visitors, in addition to virtual visitors, for a national and international experience during the three-day event this month. 

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