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Carving a Place for Baltimore’s Indigenous and Latino Artists at Center Stage and Creative Alliance

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In a city like Baltimore—whose population is more than 70% people of color—it is of great importance for institutions to authentically engage with and serve the communities in which they are based. Center Stage’s new Indigenous Art Gallery achieves this benchmark, as it continually displays work from contemporary Native American artists. In the same spirit, Creative Alliance’s Taking Space showcases Latino artists established in Baltimore. Both of these spaces serve as overdue yet effective platforms for underrepresented communities and artists of color. 

 

Baltimore Center Stage's Indigenous Gallery, photo by Philip Muriel

Located in the Baltimore Center Stage lobby, the Indigenous Art Gallery was created in partnership between Baltimore Center Stage and the Baltimore American Indian Center. The gallery’s inaugural exhibition is a collection of mixed media artwork by artists from the Lumbee Tribe of North Caroline and one of Apache and Tewa descent. As stated in the gallery’s statement, the Indigenous Art Gallery “is guided by three core tenets, Native people are still here, Native people are diverse, and Native art and practices are connected throughout time.” 

The portrait series by photographer Tanelle Schrock (Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina) serves as a visual demonstration of the gallery’s first tenet. Titled We Are Still Here, the photos depict various Native people of all ages in different settings. While some are solo portraits and others group photos, all of her subjects wear red and black clothes, some including elements of traditional Native American regalia. We Are Still Here renounces the notion that this marginalized group is no longer present in current times—a notion which further perpetuates their erasure in media, politics, and more, while also sustaining the spread of harmful misinformation. 

 

Ashley Minner Jones, "Keith," installation view, courtesy of Center Stage, photo by Philip Muriel

“Keith,” a photographic diptych by Ashley Minner Jones (Lumbee Tribe of North Caroline), is another impactful portrait piece. The first image depicts the male subject in a green shirt and sunglasses smiling towards the camera in a 3/4 view. Around the perimeter of the photograph, handwritten text reads, “I would like for people to see a proud Native American with a kind heart. Loving, caring, energetic, outgoing, honest.” The second image shows the man facing the viewer head on and dressed in full traditional Native American regalia. In a different font, the text continues listing how the subject wants to be seen, including adjectives such as “Culturally aware, respectful, God fearing, humble,” and more. 

“Keith” echoes the sentiments shared by many minorities: the desire to be seen as a well-rounded, complex individual that is proud of their cultural heritage. Within the cultural context of this piece, the media has notoriously fallen flat in its representation of Native Americans, usually resorting to stereotypes or presenting them as one dimensional. “Keith” affirms its subject as a complex individual and informs the viewer of his best qualities, painting a clear picture of who he is.

 

Dean Tonto Cox, "Native Instruments," (L) image courtesy of Center Stage, photo by Philip Muriel

“Native Instruments,” a multimedia wall hanging by Dean Tonto Cox, introduces cultural materials into the exhibit. A small wooden square panel serves as the frame for a painting depicting a hatchet and a smoke pipe crossing over one another in a sky-blue background. Four eagle feathers hang from the bottom of the square panel, all four decorated with beadwork, while the outermost feathers are tied with white cords and the inner two with red cords. 

The Indigenous Art Gallery was established to share the work of local Native American artists and achieves its goal in a well-rounded and informative inaugural exhibition. Simultaneously, Creative Alliance’s exhibition, Taking Space, exalts the voices of Latino artists based in Baltimore, each one sharing their unique perspective and culture through their work.

 

Jessy Desantis, "Companion Spirits," image courtesy of Creative Alliance
Christina Delgado, “La Bandera," image courtesy of Creative Alliance

Jessy Desantis’ acrylic painting “Companion Spirits” achieves the exhibition’s goal with its magical realist depiction of a Baltimore cityscape. Three colorful parrots are depicted congregating around a signpost marking the intersection between 300 Wolfe Street and 1900 Gough Street. The painting illustrates the junction between Desantis’ Central American background and Baltimore, where they established their home. The emotions evoked from the collision of cultures presented in “Companion Spirits” are familiar to many immigrants; the feeling that one is so obviously out of place, just like a tropical bird in an urban setting.

However, the parrots in Desantis’ work are seemingly unaware of their own misplacement, and rather than seem troubled, they peer curiously at the viewer as if they’re the one out of place. It empowers the viewer to embrace their surroundings as confidently as they do, to claim their place with the knowledge that you are not going through this journey unaccompanied. 

 

Works by Jaz Erenberg, Christina Delgado, and Jaz Erenberg at Creative Alliance
Edgar Reyes, "El Rancho," image courtesy of Creative Alliance
Christina Delgado, "Brooklyn Bridge," image courtesy of Creative Alliance

Christina Delgado’s “La Bandera” embraces that same unabashed sentiment of cultural pride. The photograph depicts a woman in front of her Brooklyn home’s doorway, holding a framed Puerto Rican flag. The piece’s title translates to ‘The Flag’, which the woman highlights as the focus of the photo by turning her head to the side and holding the frame front and center. “La Bandera” is part of Delgado’s body of work that revolves around the Puerto Rican diaspora based in New York City, commonly referred to as Nuyoricans, which are one of the largest diaspora groups in the United States. 

The Indigenous Art Gallery’s inaugural exhibition and Taking Space are excellent examples of exhibitions focused on the connections between artists’ roots and how they present in their work. Both exhibitions explore the amalgamation of cultures brought by the artists, who so readily share their journey with the visitors going to see their artwork. These exhibitions bring about an abundance of opportunities for these artists that are part of communities already so little represented and provide voices for their communities to express their joys, fears, sadness, and more with the rest of the city. 

 

Taking Space is on view at Creative Alliance through October 21st and features the work of Tito Rosa, Christina Delgado, Jessy DeSantis, Jaz Erenberg, and Edgar Reyes

Still Here is on view at Center Stage through June 16th, 2024 and features the work of Judy TallWing, Ashley Minner, Joshua Webster, Dean Tonto Cox, and Tanelle Schrock

 

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