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Grad student explores African-American culture in art

By | March 04, 2012 | News

Fresno State graduate student and assistant professor Vanessa
Addison-Wilson featured her artwork in a solo exhibit at the
Conley Art Gallery on campus. Her work is inspired by family,
religion and African-American culture.
Esteban Cortez / The Collegian

Some people called Vanessa Addison-Wilson’s artwork “enlightening” at her solo exhibit Thursday night at the Fresno State Conley Art Gallery. Fresno State student Tara Wren enjoyed it because it provides viewers with a different point of view regarding African-American culture.

“[The collection] is a very different element of African-American people throughout history and how society views us and sometimes how we view ourselves,” Wren said Thursday night at Addison-Wilson’s opening reception. “It’s very creative and thought-provoking.”

These are the thoughts and emotions Addison-Wilson hoped to evoke in viewers through her pieces.

In her first solo exhibit titled “Signifyin,’” Fresno State graduate student and assistant professor Addison-Wilson explores the themes of religion, family and her African-American culture.  Through the use of collage, painting and animation, Addison-Wilson created a vibrant 11-piece collection that comments on society’s views of African-Americans.

“The body of the collection is reflective of African-American culture,” Addison-Wilson said. “It shows what African-Americans see of their self and what society sees.”

In her “Strange Fruit” piece, the artist placed printed paper images, magazine cut outs, colored tissue paper, fabric and acrylic paint to form a face on a giant canvas.

Addison-Wilson carefully selected the images in “Strange Fruit” to comment on the public’s perception of African-American culture.   A small portion of the collage, for example, features a magazine cut out with the portrait of an African-American child with the text “Don’t shoot. I want life.” To the right, an image of an African-American man forming gang hand signs with a bandana covering his face is placed.

Every symbol in the collection is a piece of social commentary, Addison-Wilson explained.

While some gallery viewers praised the collection for its bold statements, others praised it for aesthetic reasons.

“It’s very unique and the patterns are all very different,” Fresno State student Lilian Leon said.

Addison-Wilson has always been interested in art, she said, but she just recently began to create art pieces in a formal way. Her focus is graphic design, which she teaches at Fresno State parttime.

She plans to create new pieces for the 2013 San Francisco Bay Area exhibit “The Art of Living Black,” which features regional artists of African descent. She was invited to feature existing and new pieces in the 17th-annual exhibit, and if she shows next year, she might be the first artist to feature animation art.

With her Fresno State exhibit closing this week, Addison-Wilson is happy that she was able to show her work to her family and the Fresno State community.

“It was nice to show to family who hadn’t seen my work,” she said. “It’s such a privilege to show as a solo artist because it doesn’t always happen as a grad student.”

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