Obsidian Arts, A Liberian Artist, and Pillsbury Community Center in Minneapolis

Thursday night I led a question and answer session with Liberian artist Catherine Kennedy at Obsidian Arts, a very cool gallery situated in the waiting area of Pillsbury House community center in Minneapolis. Devoted to the examination of Black visual culture, Obsidian Arts takes art out of the commercial gallery context and integrates it into public spaces where people work and conduct the business of their lives.

Kennedy’s work focuses on a group of elderly women—her grandmother included—who left Liberia because of civil wars in the late 1990 and early 2000s and ended up in Minnesota.

At the heart of Kennedy’s installation”The Baggage We Carry” is a powerful video that shows the artist’s grandmother peeling off a mask made of  band-aids that are stuck to her face.

An installation of “body bowls” sit on a podium Kennedy build specifically for the space. This podium is a light box. In the evenings it is lit from below to illuminate (in red light) the semitransparent “body bowls.”

The “body bowls” look like as if they are made of gut or skin and suggest both the ideas of sustenance (containers of food) and of  hunger (an empty belly).

As she does in this installation, Kennedy often uses groupings of small wax self-portraits hung on gallery walls  to signify the idea of groups of people on the move or migratory routs.

Kennedy does not show her protagonists as victims but makes installations to celebrate the strength of all displaced people .  The  group of elderly Liberian women Kennedy is currently working with have had a hard journey, yet Kennedy’s message is that they have  held onto their African heritage and have built a strong community  in their new home in suburban Minnesota.

About Patricia Briggs
Patricia Briggs is the director of galleries and curator of exhibitions at Jamestown Community College in Western New York. She writes the blog "Scene Unseen: Viewing Notes" about visual art in her community.

4 Responses to Obsidian Arts, A Liberian Artist, and Pillsbury Community Center in Minneapolis

  1. Looking at Kennedy’s work two words came into my mind: Lo Siento, which in Spanish means, “I feel it” and in English translates into “I am sorry.” Through Kennedy’s intuitive sense of material and image I experienced a global sorrow that needed no words of explanation. Beautiful powerful work. Thank you for finding a way to show us.

  2. Catherine is very talented and I think we will be seeing her work in Racine and Kenosha if I can find a way to bring her here.

  3. Joe Diggs says:

    Catherine Kennedy’s work echoes past war atrocities with empathetic visual eloquence. It broadcasts a people’s plight and resilience, elegantly denounces injustice while simultaneously infusing hope for all. Her art advocates for those gone never to have ever been acknowledged and those affected too young to be able to explain for years to come. Her work definitely is one of Liberia’s tears fertilizing the future to end suffering.It reminds us war is not the answer.

    • Joe, Thanks for this comment. I think Catherine’s work is very important. I think it could show much more widely nationally and internationally in time.
      Thanks again. Please pass the word.

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