By SUE SUCHYTA
DEARBORN – “Celebrating Diversity,” a vibrant exhibit that runs through Nov. 5 at the Padzieski Gallery, celebrates the work of artists Chris Batten, Eugene Clark, Cailyn Dawson, Matt Faulkner and Fahrisa Rob.
Artist and exhibit curator Clark, 57, of Oxford, a Detroit native, said that for the past decade his work has reflected diversity, community and American civil rights.
“When they asked me to curate a show, I wanted to bring in artists that I felt were working in that similar genre,” he said. “The four artists that you will see in the exhibition, in addition to my work, all have that component.”
Clark said diversity is foremost, followed by elements of civil rights and peacekeeping.
“I think there is a great emphasis on that subject matter throughout, like a common thread,” he said. “It really helps the visitor to come through and start to understand the commonality that exists.”
Clark said that today more than ever it is important to have work like this displayed to elevate those concerns as well as celebrating differences, and to provide people with a new perspective and appreciation through art.
“I have a unique perspective,” he said. “I grew up in inner-city Detroit, by U of D, and I was born in ’65, and I was born and lived in a home right near U of D where some of the race riots took place.”
Clark said he lived in Detroit for the first 30 years of his life, went to Detroit Public Schools for elementary and middle school and went to the College for Creative Studies as well as Wayne State University for graduate school. He currently teaches at CCS and at Oakland University.
“Everything that is part of me, my DNA, I think is about all of the things I learned going through the public schools and living in a community that I was the minority,” he said. “I had a great way to see through the eyes of the people who were my neighbors and understand the issues that connect to civil rights and oppression.”
Clark said he was grateful to have an opportunity to curate a show like this and to give the artists the opportunity to display the work. Two of the artists are his former students – one from CCS and one from OU.
“I tell my students the greatest profession is being an artist because our job is to make people ask questions through our artwork,” he said. “It’s just so refreshing for me to be able to know that my students are being able to take the nucleus of what we started in undergrad and bring it out into the professional world.”
Rob, 38, of Davenport, Fla., who was a student of Clark’s at OU, said it was an honor to be exhibiting her art work with Clark, her professor and mentor.
One of her paintings on display, “Rainbow Girls #1,” is an oil painting of a woman that is painted on a copy of the U.S. Constitution.
She said that when the Constitution was created, it was signed only by men.
“Back then, female rights didn’t really apply,” Rob said. “So, I wanted to have that controversy on my painting, how females could still be a part of the nation, so that is what I was going for.”
She said she was enjoying the opening night gallery crowd and all the colors.
“It’s just a wonderful thing to be here in person,” Rob said.
Faulkner, 61, of Lake Orion, said he met Clark when they were teaching at CCS. He is also the author and illustrator of the graphic novel, “Gaijin: American Prisoner of War,” which follows the story of a biracial Japanese American who is sent to an internment camp during World War II.
He said Clark wanted to have a show that related to current issues, which led him to the theme of celebrating diversity.
“For me, diversity is about acknowledging and celebrating all the wonderful things we have done in our democracy, but also acknowledging the history of being real about it,” Faulkner said. “For me, it is essential to acknowledge the Japanese American internment during World War II.”
He said he had an Irish-American great aunt who married a Japanese man, and her children and grandchildren were Japanese American, and they were all forced to go to Manzanar internment camp in California.
“For me, diversity is a necessity for stories, images and life,” Faulkner said. “If it doesn’t exist, everything is just the same over and over and over again, and people get taken advantage of and abused because it is assumed that one thing is better than another.”
He said because people are still suffering, we need to continue to talk about diversity.
“That is my intention and why I am here,” he said.
Sasha Corder, Padzieski Gallery curator, said four times a year they are able to offer a stipend to guest curators, who may submit proposals for consideration.
She said Clark’s “Celebrating Diversity” proposal was one chosen by the review committee.
“Eugene has been great during this entire thing,” Corder said. “This is his brainchild that is being brought to fruition with our help.”
She said all of the artists that he curated have a similar narrative.
“So, to bring them all together, to be able to tell those collective stories in one show is what we wanted to help him with and make it a possibility,” Corder said. “That is why our programming is so cool, that we get to bring other people in to share their ideas and their stories with us.”
She said it is a very wholesome show.
“You can bring your kids and they can see themselves on the wall,” Corder said. “You can bring your family members or even more modern art enthusiasts. There is something for everybody here and they all tell such a unique, individual story.”
She said collectively, the work in the show creates a narrative to celebrate one’s identity and culture as well as those of others in Dearborn, Downriver and the world in a way that is impactful for everyone.
“It’s a very diverse group of artists, in age and background and location,” she said. “We’ve got an artist from Florida, we’ve got an artist who has been a college professor for years and we’ve got an artist who just graduated art school, so for all of them to be able to come together and share those experiences and network and celebrate their work together is really exciting.”
Padziesky Gallery is in the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center, 15801 Michigan Ave., and is open 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.