By Rosie Alger
Elm Staff Writer
Thursday, Oct. 15 marked the opening of the newest exhibit in the Kohl Gallery “Raw Nerves.” This intense and rich collection takes a deeper look at the history of racial prejudice and tension from the perspective of two different artists, Jeffrey Kent and Warren Lyons.
Lyons’ work centers on portraiture mostly of famous historical black figures, while Kent uses a variety of mixed media and sculpture pieces to present provocative images.
Alex Castro, director of the Sandbox Initiative and co- curator of the exhibit, said, “It has been delightful watching how these two very different artists and their work have come together to make an exhibition with a strong statement.”
Castro worked closely with Dr. Alisha Knight, professor of English and American Studies and director of the Black Studies program at Washington College. Together, they made sure the works had a meaningful and striking connection, hoping to draw in students to rethink their perspectives on race. “I’m hoping that people go and aren’t afraid of the exhibit, and they leave it realizing that [this] is still an issue. That we are not in a post racial society. [I hope] that they start to investigate and question and contemplate the feelings that they have, rather than ignore or repress those feelings,” said Dr. Knight.
The show certainly has had an impact on students. Sophomore Kainat Khan said her favorite piece was Kent’s “Can’t Touch This.” In this sculpture, a water fountain from 1959 was covered in gold leaf, and a bell jar was placed over the nozzle. “I like the title. With a water fountain, everyone can use it, but here, it says, ‘Can’t Touch This.’ It’s not for use,” Khan said.
Kent used a variety of other interesting media in his works, the most striking being the recurring cotton, actually picked by slaves before the Civil War. Sophomore Devin Taylor especially liked this aspect. “I think the cotton motif is really cool. I like art that thinks outside the canvas,” he said.
Taylor’s favorite piece was Kent’s “Have Forgotten.” “I think it makes an interesting message about how the past and present parallel,” he said. “The victims of yesteryear don’t side with the victims of today. They’re blinded by their differences.”
Lyons’ portraits of people like Fredrick Douglass and John Coltrane are enormous tributes to memorable figures in black history. Six of the 22 portraits he painted in the series are displayed in the exhibit. Lyons’ work reflects a long history of different kinds of artistic reflections. “I deliberately paint from the unconscious,” he said.
Lyons was primarily an abstract painter in his early career, which shows in his work. After he became a social worker, however, he was drawn to the stories of these people. “Suffering can teach us things. It can become something more than pain. That pain can be transformed into meaning,” Lyons said. “I began to connect with people, and it inspired me to study the lives of extraordinary people.”
The show will run until Dec. 5 at the Kohl Gallery, which is open from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. All students, staff, and community members are encouraged to attend. Castro said, “I think the two aspects of the show- the two distinctly different approaches taken by the two artists- provide entries for a wide audience. It is a show that should not be missed, one that we are fortunate to have at the College and in Chestertown.”