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Arts & Culture
These articles were excerpted from Tapestry, a weekly newsletter that examines the arts and entertainment world in Charlotte and North Carolina.

'We Definitely Want To Start With Home First': Charlotte Showcase Highlights Black Women Artists

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Bryant Lindsey
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Charlotte photographer Jessica Dunston, left, is one of six local women artists being featured in BLKMRKTCLT's "Nu Growth" series that kicks off Friday, July 9.

In early 2020, Charlotte artists Carla Aaron-Lopez and Dammit Wesley got to talking about other creatives in the Queen City. Specifically, the BLKMRKTCLT co-owners were talking about how it was harder for them to name as many women artists as men off the top of their heads.

That’s when they hatched a plan.

“We wanted to make 2020 the year of Black women and try to get as many Black women artists as possible to have their work featured in BLKMRKTCLT,” Aaron-Lopez said. “But the pandemic happened.”

Now the plan is back on. BLKMRKTCLT, in Camp North End, is launching its “Nu Growth” series on Friday, highlighting the work of six local Black women artists.

Aaron-Lopez said the delay gave her and fellow curator and BLKMRKTCLT co-owner Will Jenkins more time to meet artists and for the series to be more intentional.

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BLKMRKTCLT
Carla Aaron-Lopez

“I think it was better that everything was sidelined, because that meant a year for so many artists and creatives, no matter how they choose to identify themselves, that was just a straight year of practice,” she said.

And the realization Aaron-Lopez mentioned earlier about it being harder to name local women artists than men? It’s not just a Charlotte thing. A 2019 analysis from Artnet showed just 11% of art acquired by top U.S. museums for permanent collections was made by women — and only 3% by Black women, The New York Times reported. And the National Endowment for the Arts found in 2019 that while nearly half of visual artists were women, they made less than men.

“Classically, according to the Western art world, women just aren’t highlighted enough in general,” Aaron-Lopez said. “God forbid if you’re a person of color because then you're really not highlighted at all. If we’re going to continue making ways and spaces for local artists of color, then we definitely want to start with home first.”

So BLKMRKTCLT will showcase a different artist each Friday through Aug. 6 — and in each case, it’ll be the artist’s first solo show. The shows are pop-ups, so they’ll come down before the next artist’s turn.

‘You Become So Much More Intentional’

Up first is Jessica Dunston on Friday, July 9. The film photographer just picked up the camera professionally last year, and having a show was one of her goals for 2021.

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Jessica Dunston
This photograph by Jessica Dunston will be featured in her "Fluorescent Brown" showcase July 9 that kicks off BLKMRKTCLT's "Nu Growth" exhibition.

There’s a certain challenge to shooting film that Dunlap says adds to the experience. Unlike digital cameras that can hold thousands of photos, film cameras are limited to about 20 shots per each roll of film. On top of that, people using film can’t just check a screen on their cameras to gauge how their shots look.

“It makes you become so much more intentional about every shot,” she said.

Dunston says her work is inspired by her own life in a lot of ways. She shot a series called “Home” late last year that focuses on people finding joy in their own living spaces, for example. Some of the photos show people being romantic while cooking, bathing and sometimes just hanging out.

At BLKMRKTCLT, she’s debuting a series called “Fluorescent Brown,” which has portraits celebrating Black skin and people’s acceptance of their bodies in general. That’s personal, too.

“My skin has always been a subject of importance, and it stems from just any sort of negative connotations that I had growing up from having darker skin or browner skin or what have you,” Dunston said. “And you have to go through a journey of self-love to kind of work through that. And everyone kind of goes through that in some way, shape or form with some part of themselves.”

‘That Little Kid Dream Is Coming To Life’

And things like that — connections that many people can relate to — are what Aaron-Lopez hopes will help drive people from across the Charlotte area to the “Nu Growth” showcases.

“I think that’s going to be the key element in people coming in and just choosing to look at something differently or understand a point of view — because you feel it, too,” Aaron-Lopez said.

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Jamea Naje' Marlowe is one of six local women artists being featured by BLKMRKTCLT for the "Nu Growth" exhibition. Marlowe's "Lost, Found & Freed" showcase will debut July 30.

Dunston’s showcase starts at 6 p.m. Friday. And the following artists will be featured in succession at the same time each Friday through Aug. 6: Mara Robbin, Kalin Devone, Jamea Naje’ Marlowe, Jamila Brown and Wabwila Mugala. Art in the exhibition includes photography, charcoal portraits and mixed media.

“Nu Growth," which is free but requires an RSVP, also doubles as BLKMRKTCLT’s fourth anniversary celebration. And over the last year, its artists have gained increasing recognition. That includes Dammit Wesley’s work on the Black Lives Matter mural on Tryon Street last summer and a Black Lives Matter photo mural produced by Aaron-Lopez and Jenkins. Plus Aaron-Lopez organized the "LOCAL/STREET" pop-up exhibition at Mint Museum Randolph in March that featured more than 40 artists of color, and the collective currently has a gallery room at the Mint’s “It Takes a Village” exhibition.

“You know how every little kid wants to do something when they grow up?” Aaron-Lopez asked. “We’re getting a chance to do what we wanted to do as an adult. That little kid dream is coming to life, and one part of sustaining it is supporting your community and collaborating with your community.”

And now the BLKMRKTCLT team is in a position to help other people achieve those dreams.

“Everybody deserves a chance,” Aaron-Lopez said.

Do you want to know more about arts and culture in the Charlotte region? WFAE's weekly arts and entertainment email newsletter, Tapestry, will keep you in the loop. Sign up here to have Tapestry delivered straight to your inbox.