Wednesday, August 02, 2006

NIA advances work of young black artists

To learn more about NIA please visit NIA's official website:

By Fredric Koeppel
July 28, 2006

The NIA Artist Collective kept a pretty low profile for several years until it mounted "The Salon" exhibition a year ago at Memphis College of Art's On the Street gallery on South Main.

The event returns with a reception tonight from 6 to 9, but instead of a one-night show, the exhibition went up July 14 and will be displayed through Aug. 13.

NIA is the Swahili word for "purpose," which, in this case, is to advance the cause of young black artists and their work in the art community. Vitus Shell is vice president of NIA, and since he curated "The Salon for Memphis' Arts Creators," we asked him some questions about the organization and the event.

Q: What was the impetus behind NIA?

A: It started in the summer of 2001 with the feeling that black artists in Memphis are underrepresented and feeling that the community doesn't really support artists generally. So a group of friends got together, most of us young, in our twenties, and decided to meet together and talk about the problems.

Q: Where do you think these problems originate?

A: It's a combination of things. The community not really appreciating art as a whole. Families not knowing how to support or help their children who want to be artists. I mean, most people don't know how to survive as artists. That's one thing we're doing, talking to, using the older artists in Memphis that are successful, people like George Hunt and Brenda Joysmith. They've been like mentors to the group.

Q: Is part of the problem a lack of knowledge about the art world and how to relate to it?

A: Well, I think it's about packaging. A lot of black artists don't know how to package their work or promote themselves. Being part of NIA, you meet artists that are successful, they show you the ropes, how to meet people and talk to people.

Q: But some members of NIA are pretty successful. Lester Julian Merriweather was selected for MAX: 03 and "Brooks Introduces." Twin (Jerry and Terry Lynn) are represented by David Lusk Gallery. And you had a show at Perry Nicole Fine Art earlier this year.

A: Oh, I wouldn't take anything away from those successes, or the talent, but I think they show how helpful the group has been. It's helped everybody. I've seen artists that were part-time develop so fast that they become part of the system. And that helps the next artist be motivated to go on to better things.

Q: What was the motivation for "The Salon"?

A: We wanted to get all the creative people in Memphis together, not just about fine arts but poets, writers, singers. We want them to come out and network and get people exposure that normally don't get exposed. We make sure the work is presented nicely and shown well. This isn't like the typical wine and cheese opening. It's more open and exciting. We'll have a deejay playing acid jazz and trip hop. People can come by and paint, touch the paintings, hear music, see the art.

Q: Do you see NIA as an investment in the future of black artists in Memphis?

A: Yes, exactly, it's more than for the group that's here now. It's for the future, for the artists that are coming up. They need a space. We want to have a print shop and a photo shop. We want to have an artist in residence from another city or country.

Q: Where will the money come from for these visions?

A: Right now we're working on nonprofit status. Then we'll see where we go from there.

--Fredric Koeppel, 901-529-2376

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