By India Espy-Jones
A local activist transformed a vacant lot outside the Institute for Contemporary Art in Richmond to highlight issues of food security and the importance of Black and brown community spaces.
The “Commonwealth” exhibit at Virginia Commonwealth University’s ICA features work from 10 artists including an outdoor installation created by activist and community farmer Duron Chavis who builds gardens throughout Richmond. The full exhibit seeks to examine how common resources influence the wealth and well-being of communities.
Chavis proposed the resiliency garden exhibit in 2019 during a public forum at the ICA. The resiliency garden—food grown to weather the tough times and to have food independence— is installed in an asphalt lot at Grace and Belvidere streets next to the ICA and features 30 raised beds of fruits, vegetables and flowers.
An extension of the garden exhibit is the “Black Space Matters” mural by Southside artist Silly Genius. A wall in the lot is painted, with fruit making the word Black and beneath the garden in big, yellow letters is “Space Matters.” The garden beds have historic quotes from civil rights leaders Kwame Ture and Malcolm X, among other activists.
“Black Space Matters means that Black people need space,” Chavis said. “We need space that is explicitly designed, planned, and implemented by Black and brown people.”
Chavis, along with a crew of volunteers, started building the garden on Aug. 10 while the ICA temporarily closed to install other exhibits.
“We invited him to think with us about how to activate a vacant lot next to the ICA,” said Stephanie Smith, ICA chief curator. “You could think about what it means to take a space and institutional resources, then give them over to an activist.”
Chavis seeks to address the lack of food access through his activism. Food insecurity, defined by the United States Department of Agriculture as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food,” is an issue in Richmond’s low-income neighborhoods. The city had over 35,000 food insecure people in 2018, according to Feeding America, a network of more than 200 food banks.
“In a conversation about food justice, Black people are predominately impacted by lack of food access,” Chavis said. “We need space to address that issue.”
Low-income communities need access to resources and necessary skills to solve food wealth issues on their own, he said.
“We do not need anybody to come into our community to drop off food,” Chavis said.
He’s been doing work like this since 2012 and doesn’t have a hard count of how many garden beds have been built.
“Dozens, oh god, it’s all across the city,” he said.
Chavis amplified his efforts this year because of the pandemic. He fundraised and received a grant, according to a VPM report, to build over 200 resiliency gardens with the help of volunteers.
Quilian Riano, an architect at New York studio DSGN AGNC, designed the concept drawing for the ICA garden, which was envisioned as a public space for conversation and lecture. The completed garden is near identical to the original design except with an added texture and dimension, Riano said.
The “Commonwealth” exhibit will be open until Jan. 17, 2021. After the exhibit ends, the gardens’ supplies and plants will be redistributed to other resiliency garden project locations throughout Richmond. Chavis collaborates with other groups and people to help people grow their own food during the pandemic.
Tickets to the indoor exhibitions can be reserved on the ICA website. Exhibits include a video performance by indigenous artist Tanya Lukin Linklater, Carolina Caycedo’s “Distressed Debt” and a sculpture by Lukin Linklater and Tiffany Shaw-Collinge.
Plow Through Your Holiday Shopping at Holiday Villages a Virtual Market
Let’s spread some holiday cheer and support Richmond’s small business and artist community at a new VIRTUAL Holiday Villages!
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New VMFA exhibition portrays the majestic beauty of Virginia’s Natural Bridge
The exhibition, free to visitors, will be on view at VMFA from February 6 to August 1, 2021.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) has announced its upcoming exhibition, Virginia Arcadia: The Natural Bridge in American Art, an exploration of the artistic portrayal of this spectacular and seemingly miraculous natural landmark. The exhibition, free to visitors, will be on view at VMFA from February 6 to August 1, 2021.
The majesty of the Shenandoah Valley’s Natural Bridge, a 400-year-old geological formation, has inspired artists, writers and explorers over the centuries. It has served as an ethereal example of the American landscape, an icon of natural history and a witness to human civilization. One of the most depicted sites in American 19th-century landscape painting, this formation captured the imaginations of artists like Frederic Church, David Johnson, Edward Hicks and Caleb Boyle, as well as many decorative artists.
“VMFA is pleased to recognize Virginia’s very own natural landmark through this exhibition,” said VMFA Director and CEO Alex Nyerges. “We hope Virginia Arcadia inspires appreciation for and interest in rediscovering the wonderful natural world here in our state, and also recognizing that the environment is a precious source of inspiration.”
“Consider a time when our very landscape sparked wonder and inspired myth,” said the exhibition’s curator, Dr. Christopher C. Oliver, VMFA’s Assistant Curator of American Art. “Artists were moved to not only capture its picturesque splendor and breathtaking sense of place, but also all that the Natural Bridge represented and idealized — the sublime divinity of the natural world, the excitement of discovery, the harmony between nature and civilization and the abundance of pastoral beauty.” The Natural Bridge is also historically relevant to western expansion, slavery, natural history, tourism and ecological conservation.
Virginia Arcadia examines the Natural Bridge through more than 60 paintings, prints, decorative art objects and photographs made between the late 1700s and the early 1900s. Highlights of the exhibition include works from VMFA’s collection including one of the earliest illustrations of the Natural Bridge, an engraving from 1787 by Baron De Turpin, a French engineer sent to document the site, one of three such engravings featured in Volume 1: Travels In North-America in the Years 1780, 1781 and 1782. Joshua Shaw’s oil painting Natural Bridge No. 1 (ca. 1820) captures the view from atop the arch of the bridge looking down into a nearby creek in Rockbridge County, Virginia. Several works in the exhibition are on loan from institutions across the country including the Chrysler Museum, the Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia, the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, and the Yale University Art Gallery, as well as from private collections.
More information about Virginia Arcadia: The Natural Bridge in American Art can be found on the museum’s website.
Photos: Preview of Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights at Lewis Ginter
November 23rd is when you can check out the lights at Lewis Ginter but last night we were lucky enough to get a sneak peek.