Carnegie Hall Features Black Appalachian Artists For Black History Month
Carnegie Hall is hosting three exhibits that feature the work of Black West Virginian artists from Jan. 7 until Mar. 25. The exhibits are held in celebration of Black History Month and will display the work of Jamal Hoskins, Doris Fields, and Robby Moore.
“I thought that it was important to me to get more artists of color in… and let them be celebrated,” said Allan Sizemore, art director of Carnegie Hall.
The exhibit features three rotating galleries: the Old Stone Room, the Lobby Gallery, and the Museum Gallery. The Old Stone Room features the work of Hoskins, a multi-media artist from Glen White, West Virginia. Hoskins first realized he could draw at the age of five, but it wasn’t until later in life that he realized he had a gift. Despite his talent, he didn’t pursue art professionally until approximately five years ago.
“It’s been a long time coming. That’s like something that I always put on the back burner in order to take care of family. I feel like, you know, that could come second… Outside of that now, it’s like I found peace in my art and within myself. It’s really something that I want to take to the next level,” Hoskins explained.
Approximately 12 pieces by Hoskins are currently on display in the Old Stone Room gallery until Feb. 25. A majority of the pieces in the exhibit include monochromatic style portraits of famous and historically significant Black figures. Martin Luther King Jr., Kobe Bryant, and Angela Davis are some of the subjects of Hoskins’s work. Hoskins said his biggest inspiration is his love for art and his drive to keep creating.
“I think my drive is my inspiration, and me willing to get better technically as an artist every day,” Hoskins stated.
The Lobby Gallery showcases the work of Doris Fields, a.k.a Lady D, a musician from Cabin Creek, West Virginia. Fields often referred to as “West Virginia’s First Lady of Soul,” has an expansive discography that includes six studio albums, including her recent release “Disturbing My Peace.” Fields only recently started experimenting with visual art in 2020 during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and the nationwide protests against police brutality towards Black Americans.
“It was just piling up, everything was just like bearing down on me, and I had to get it out. And painting was the way that I did that,” Fields explained.
The initial piece of the collection was titled after her recent album and was used as the cover art for her CD. Fields said that art is not just a hobby but has become another professional outlet. She said she treats her art with the same respect as her music. In addition to her work as a musician and visual artist, Fields is also a poet and actress who performed her original one-woman play “The Lady and the Empress” on Jan. 7 at Carnegie Hall.
Approximately 12 fabric and canvas paintings by Fields will be featured in the Lobby Gallery until Mar. 25. Her artwork, which depicts faceless images of Black individuals, includes afro-centric themes and social justice messages. One of her most notable pieces is titled “Reaching For the Moon and Stars,” which depicts a Black woman reaching up trying to find a way to get out of, what she calls, the “muck and mire.” She said this piece represents how she feels about her home state of West Virginia.
“West Virginia is really a beautiful state, but it’s also muddy and sticky and messy, too, and if you let it, it will bog you down. But if you reach high enough and keep reaching, you know, you can even get your head above water at some point, or at least enjoy the journey upwards,” Fields said.
The Museum Gallery, formerly known as the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame, features approximately 30 works of art by Moore, a visual artist from Beckley, West Virginia. Moore graduated with a B.A. in Studio Art, a concentration in painting, and a minor in theater from Concord University. Moore began exhibiting art professionally in 1999, and in 2004, he co-founded Treehouse Arts Ensemble, an organization dedicated to producing original fine and performing art in West Virginia. Moore is a member of Beckley Art Center and has curated several art exhibitions in West Virginia and Ohio. He is also a professional theater director and has worked as a set designer, customer, actor, technician and marionette puppeteer. From 2011 to 2016, he was a resident studio artist at Tamarack, an Arts facility in Beckley, West Virginia.
His exhibit at Carnegie Hall will run until Mar. 25 and features paintings and quilt work. Moore said that the inspiration for his artwork comes from his identity as a Black man, a Southern West Virginian and an artist.
“I sort of draw inspiration from those individual things, but then also inspiration from the collective of them, once they all are assembled. That collective identity I think is interesting to explore, and then a lot of the pieces, especially the paintings, are sort of inspired by my daily life,” Moore said.
Hoskins, Fields and Moore reflected on their experiences as Black Appalachian Artists and how their artwork mirrors the Black experience in the United States. For Moore, the subject matter of his artwork has always been based on his own lived experience, but he didn’t necessarily connect that to the general black experience. As a Black man from rural Appalachia, Moore questioned whether he could be an authority on the Black experience. He learned, however, that his experience as a Black person is valid, and Black West Virginians have a rich history that should be shared.
“Once I’ve shifted that focus, then I was really able to express my own personal experience of being a black American and really, authentically tell that story… I didn’t want to appropriate someone else’s story and, sort of diminishing my own story in that as well, maybe not feeling like my own perspective, as a black American, a black artist, and a black West Virginian was worth telling. And so again, shifting that perspective, and really looking at looking at my story gave me the confidence and really let me see the value of sharing that story,” Moore explained.
For Fields, however, West Virginia was a place that she felt she needed to escape to achieve her dreams of becoming a musician. After returning to her home state after her first marriage, Fields realized West Virginia is an excellent place to be based. While there are not many opportunities here for Black artists, West Virginia challenges her to be creative when it comes to new ways of profiting from her artistic talents.
“It’s just really a challenge to be creative and trying to keep the money coming in and do what I love to do at the same time,” Fields said.
Fields said she’s never thought of herself as a political person or activist. She said her art reflects what she sees and would like to see in our society.
Fields stated, “What I can’t put into words, I put it on canvas.”
Although these exhibits held at Carnegie Hall serve as a celebration of Black History Month, Hoskins, Fields, Moore, and Sizemore believe it is crucial to highlight and showcase Black art and Black artists year-round.
“We’re people too. I mean, there’s not just white art. Everybody’s capable of being artistic. I think it’s a shame that it’s really not until February that black artists are actually sought out for a lot of different things… There’s a need for black creatives in February because so many organizations, institutions, want to recognize Black History Month with some type of presentation, or show, or event, or whatever. So, then they need you to show up and be black then,” Fields discussed.
Sizemore said that Black artists in West Virginia are highly underserved. While there are many Black artists in the mountain state, many may feel ostracized or unwelcomed in the artistic community. Hoskins also stated that many talented Black artists in West Virginia don’t want to pursue their talent because of marginalization and discrimination in the creative society. While he, as well as Moore and Fields, encourage all Black Appalachian artists to hone in on their craft and pursue their dreams, they admit that the constant rejection and discrimination Black artists face can take a toll on one’s confidence.
“You have to be your own driving force…There are advantages and disadvantages, we all know that but one thing about it, you can’t get aggravated and just give up. It’s only too late when you’re dead. So keep living your life and following your dreams,” Hoskins encouragingly said.
Despite the lack of representation for Black artists in West Virginia, Sizemore hopes that the exhibit can spark change and lead to more shows featuring Black artists at Carnegie Hall and other artistic venues. For Hoskins, Moore and Fields, they hope their work resonates with viewers and sparks a discussion about race in West Virginia. Fields also stated that she hopes viewers come away with a deeper appreciation for Black art in West Virginia.
“I hope that it makes them think a little bit, you know, about today’s society, but also find some beauty in the black form. And also, we realize that there is art life coming out of West Virginia, and there are black people here making this art. And it’s something that hopefully leads to more artists being recognized,” Fields shared.
For more information on Carnegie Hall and the Black History Month exhibits, go to carnegiehallwv.org.