Art as Liberation, which took place on June 18, featured a live DJ, free food, interactive workshops, and musical performances, in addition to the 25 Black visual artists on display. The event also served to celebrate Juneteenth, which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in 1865. The day became a federal holiday in June 2021.
Art as Liberation showcased photographers, painters, graphic designers, and others. Owunna, a local photographer and owner of Mikael Owunna Studios, wanted Black artists to come together and showcase art in both new and creative ways.
Owunna paints his models with fluorescent paints and uses a flash that only transmits ultraviolet light. He says that after the killings of Michael Brown and George Floyd, he "wanted to figure out a way to transfigure Black bodies from being sites of death into cosmic vessels of eternal light.”
“Art as Liberation can from the mind of Mikael Owunna,” says Jasiri X, co-founder of 1Hood Media. “He really wanted to do something for Juneteenth, and we put this
event on at City of Asylum last year. Unfortunately, they do not have an outdoor
space anymore, so we decided to call PNC Park, and here we are.”
Marques Redd, managing member of The Redd Studio adds, “It is important to have people come together to really think about cultural heritage, freedom, and
liberation. We can do all of that while building infrastructure for Black artists.”
Each artist had something that pushed them to get to where they are. For many, it was the effects of the pandemic.
“I got laid off my job in 2020,” says Naomi Allen, a mixed media artist that specializes in 3D paintings, resin, and paper-mache. “I just had no other way of making money. I had nothing else to do so I started my art business. In my first two days, I made over $1,000. I have been consistent ever since.”
Alycia Washington says she got laid off from her job in 2016.
"It put a lot of stress on me while I was trying to figure out what was next,” says Washington. “Since I had so much time on my hands I started to work out and paint again. I realized that if let so much happiness and joy when I did them.”
“When I went to the library, I started to discover black photographers like Tennie
Harris and Gordon Parks,” Mcduffie says. “That allowed me to see how I can make
photography mat allowed me to see how I can make photography my own.”
Most of Marlon Fullenwider’s portraits are made entirely out of glass and are inspired by mosaic art, a technique that uses small pieces of material such as stone, mineral, glass, tile, or shell.
“I was introduced to the mosaic concept in high school,” Fullenwider says. “I like the reflective element that glass had.”
Evangeline Mensah-Agyekum Is an upcoming photographer who prides herself on
having Black people as her main subjects. “Fashion is what inspired me to be a photographer,” says Mensah-Agyekum. “However, being able to learn about everybody’s stories and what they have been through inspires me the most. Having work by us for us is something special.”
Both Patrick Everett and Sagid Saleh are influenced by anime.
“I noticed on TikTok that animated paintings were becoming popular. Throughout
history, there have been Black samurais, Black ninjas, and martial artists," says
Everett. "Our culture influenced and helped everywhere, and I think that is huge.”
Everett’s portraits are made on glass because he believes that they provide the
best look. “I like everything to be clean and that is why I put everything on glass,” says Everett.
Most of Saleh’s art is inspired by anime.
“I have been watching anime my whole life. I think that a lot of Black people feel
alienated from society and have been overlooked for so long,” says Saleh. “We look
for inspiration in the media. A lot of Japanese art is about coming-of-age and who
the character is on the inside. Many Black people resonate with that.”
Another local artist, Keisha Patterson, believes "a lot of Black artists are working in isolation," adding, "Coming together has felt really energizing. This cannot be the only time Black artists come together.”
Joziah Council was one of the musical performers at the event.
“I got my start in church. Both of my grandparents were pastors. Gospel music is
really a pillar of the church,” says Council. “I started to put my own spin on it to
make it my own.”
“Making food is an art and a passion. If you feel like you are amazing at cooking
then you should go for it,” says Steve. “More African Americans should try to go into
business for themselves instead of doing a 9 to 5. Many of us aren’t educated on
being business owners so we must educate ourselves.”
Stephen Perkins, the executive vice president of marketing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, also attended the event, and says, “Sports can bring people together. We saw this as an opportunity to bring all our communities together to celebrate Black artists. We wanted to give them the platform and the exposure that they deserve.”
Carey Cox serves as the senior director of integrated marketing for the Pittsburgh Pirates and believes that the sports organization allows the community to take the lead.
“We have listening sessions with local groups. It’s their city they should have a say
on what needs to be done within the city,” says Cox.