BSU and Umoja host black art showcase of artists across Spokane

by Cambria Pilger | Staff Writer

A crowd of 40-50 people gather downstairs in the Lied Center for the Visual Arts. Rows of chairs line the outside of the showcase room for spectators. The walls inside the space are embellished with 17 art pieces, including one stand near the middle of the room. Each wall is composed of hues of purple, black, green, blue and pink, which blend together to light up the space.

The question, “What are the words on your heart?” covers the top corner of one wall, among other poems, paintings and mixed media pieces, all from all different black artists in Spokane. Some of the artists represented are students from Whitworth, while others come from different colleges and high schools and still others are professional artists. 

The black art showcase was hosted by the Black Student Union (BSU) and Umoja as a way “to create a platform for black artists in the Spokane area to share their art,” sophomore Taylor Pannell said. She is the exhibition curator and a member of BSU’s leadership. She also displayed one of her own paintings in the gallery.

This was the first art exhibition Pannell has curated. Throughout the past year, she found the artists through Terrain (a local non-profit aimed toward “artists, makers and culture creators,” according to their website), Shades of Me (a collective of diverse artists in the Inland Northwest) and various interactions.

The showcase took place on Saturday, Feb. 29. The art will be in the student critique room in Lied Art Center until Saturday, March 7, at the least, Pannell said.

“It’s really exciting because it [was] a vision of mine for a while, and now it’s here,” Pannell said. 

Pannell has wanted to do an event like this since the beginning of the year. Through the exhibition, she hopes people gain appreciation and respect for what it takes to be a black artist, she said.

Visitors had the opportunity to speak to the artists and look at their work, and there were three groups of performances. One of the students who performed was freshman Dollar Ganu, a psychology and art history major. She shared a poem she wrote about black hypermasculinity that stemmed from research she recently did.

“I think a lot of my poems have to do with social justice,” Ganu said.

 She often performs her pieces at different events around Spokane, including Whitworth.

Ganu also sang in a duet with sophomore Munya Fashu-Kanu, who is a leadership member of BSU and helped with communication for the exhibition. They performed “FourFiveSeconds” by Rihanna, Kanye West and Paul McCartney. Fashu-Kanu said they chose this song because it is a collaboration between musicians, of whom two are black.

“I’m really glad that I could sort of expand the borders of what art is,” Fashu-Kanu said. 

Since most of the artwork at the show was visual, performing a song rounded out the exhibition with another type of art while connecting with Fashu-Kanu’s music studies and passions.

Samuel Rain Benjamin (who goes by the stage name Complicated Passions) was one of the poets who displayed their work at the show. He has written 16 books and performed them across the country. At the reception, he read a few poems, most of which were about love.

“I wanted to let the young people know that love is still real,” Benjamin said. 

He said he mostly writes love poems because it is an important topic that young people today don’t understand in the same way their grandparents did.

The black art showcase was a way to celebrate Black History Month and recognize black artists in the Spokane community, Fashu-Kanu said. It was one of a few upcoming events by BSU.