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Westfield State professor’s exhibit sparks racial, cultural dialogue

Westfield State professor’s exhibit sparks racial, cultural dialogue

WESTFIELD, Mass., February 2, 2016- The Westfield State Arno Maris Art Gallery will host a reception for artist Imo Imeh, assistant professor of art, to commemorate his exhibit “The Ten Little Nigger Girls” on Thursday, February 4 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

The event is part of Westfield State University’s Black Her/History Month calendar.  Since 1974, Westfield State has held special events during the month of February dedicated to informing students, faculty, and staff as well as the community about the importance of black history, culture, and traditions. Black History Month is organized by a committee of faculty, staff, students, and sponsored by the Westfield State University Department of Diversity/Inclusion & Student Activities (DISA).

Imo Nse Imeh is a Nigerian-American visual artist and scholar of African Diaspora visual culture and aesthetics. He is the author of “Daughters of Seclusion: the Revelation of the Ibibio ‘Fattened Bride’ as the Icon of Beauty and Power.” Recently, his large-scale drawing “Flying Home with Laura Nelson” was featured in Transition Magazine. He is the featured visual artist for the 2015 publication “Eight New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set.” Imeh is one of this year’s recipients of the Westfield State University Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Grant. It is through this grant that his project “Ten Little Nigger Girls” has been made possible.

Imeh earned his B.A. in art history from Columbia University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in art history from Yale University.

The exhibit is based on a children’s book of the same name published in 1907. The infamous book features a cohort of ten black girls who are eliminated from the story one-by-one, often in graphic ways.

“The book is an illustration of a mainstream culture that has grown so accustomed to objectifying and dehumanizing black people, that even black children live without any social sanctuary from the most horrific and destructive attacks, simply because of their race,” Imeh said.

In his project overview, Imeh describes how his exhibit portrays black history.

“My drawings navigate between historical situations in the space of visual politics in which black children became the unwitting targets of imagined dangers and physical violence, and the persistence of such imaginings in today’s visual-political spaces,” Imeh said. “This project is being developed in the spirit of honest education and conversation, to examine the language, history, and realities of race in America, and the misfortune of how we collectively decide to the degree to which we should place value on the lives of black children.”

Imeh said the title of his exhibit, while shocking, is culturally relevant.

“The sentiments behind the racial slur still persist today, in more widespread ways than we collectively choose to acknowledge,” Imeh said.

For this exhibit, Imeh said he challenged himself to stick to black and white mediums including graphite, charcoal, and India ink.

“For me, the horrors of what the girls are experiencing in each depicted moment are better brought to life by the suggestions of the limited color palette, rather than any degree of naturalism that full color could offer,” Imeh said.

Imeh said his artwork generally addresses African Diaspora themes, which he hopes spark important conversations about race.

“I hope my work provides a safe space for people to take in this information and have honest and much needed discussions about young black people and the continued struggle for social equality in our country, which in many ways, and contrary to public opinion, has yet to be achieved,” Imeh said.

In addition to the reception, Imeh will hold gallery talks on Tuesday, February 9 at 11.15 a.m., 12:45 p.m., and 2:15 p.m. at the Black Box Theater located on the second floor of the Ely Campus Center.

Imeh’s exhibit will remain on display until February 27. The Arno Maris Art Gallery is located on the second floor of the Ely Campus Center. Regular gallery hours are Tuesday/Thursday, 11 a.m.- 5 p.m., Wednesday/Friday, 11 a.m. - 2 p.m., and Saturday, 11 a.m.- 3 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.westfield.ma.edu/offices/art-galleries or www.imoimeh.com.