Bucks art exhibit displays unique representation of black oppression

Hal Conte, Centurion Staff

A new art exhibit featuring the works of Peter Williams is currently on display in Newtown Campus’ Hicks Art Center.
The exhibit, called “Contested Identities,” will be shown until October 8. Williams’ work delves into the relationship between black people and the country’s national identity.
Susan Hagen, guest curator of the exhibit, decided to curate the exhibit when the Provost asked her how the school could focus more on identity, race, and cultural heritage. When asked about her selection for the Williams exhibit, she replied, “His work covers so much ground, so I chose a range of what he is working on.”
The pieces include openly political works as well as more ambiguous messages.
An example of the former would be “Da Ferguson News,” [displayed to the right] a blue and white canvas designed to resemble a newspaper’s front page. The imagery touches on the somewhat intentional ignorance of white Americans in regards to violence against blacks. The newspaper leaves no doubt about the artist’s empathy for victims of white aggression, and is perhaps the most blatantly politicized canvases on display.
By contrast, some other works are seemingly more lighthearted, or at least, less dark.
“Untitled Heads,” depicts various faces, some more abstract than others. It comments on individual struggles with self indentity.
“He has a pretty creative imagination,” said Hagen, “The pieces are complex.”
All of the pieces tell us something about the experiences of black people as well as other groups in American society.
One of them depicts a black Superman-like figure, flying through the air. He has an American flag for a cape and a costume with “the N word” on his chest.
“His work is deep, profound and funny,” Hagen explained. No canvas includes just one image, and many show common African-American themes like “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and characters such as policemen.
The exhibit also reflects on non-racial struggles. One canvas, titled “Dolphin Hair,” depicts a man with a rainbow atop his head in front of a rainbow background. It is a possible reference to the experiences of LGBT people.
“The rainbow picture is numerous yet cosmic, with both typical and worldly elements,” Hagen said.
His other pictures depict even more indentity questions. The eyes of the people have an interesting, mystic quality. Some are glowing with blazing determination.
Williams traces his unique artistic style back his youth.
“My working career stretches back to the hometown high school experience; A great art teacher, Joe McDowell, and a supportive mother and family,” Williams said in an essay published on the University of Delaware website.
“My process has always been experimental with regard to content and traditional form,” he said, “The work is consequential of my own inner attempt to experience the outer world. Things occur in a non-linear format. The making of a painting is lousy with traps and detours and it’s difficult to control all of them, so you try to construct a sensibility with its own language; color, shape, line, volume, weight, Race card.”
The gallery is funded in part by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts as well as the National Endowment for the arts. It can be viewed whenever the Hicks Art Center is open.