BIPOC artists showcase their work at UNCA

On Friday, April 1,  a milestone for not just UNC Asheville, but the UNC system as a whole, occured with the “This is Us: BIPOC Art Show,” a collaboration over a year in the making between schools throughout the UNC system showcasing artwork by 10 BIPOC student artists. UNCA hosted the art show in the Grotto from 3-8 p.m. with the artists attending to showcase their art. 

Anuquet Mangum, associate vice president of UNC Association of Student Governments, event organizer and artist for this show, described the positive implications of this show.

“We’re giving BIPOC students the chance to become noticed and also allowing them to receive pay,” Mangum said.

The artists participating in the show came from schools all over the UNC system including UNC Greensboro, UNCA, North Carolina A&T, UNC Pembroke and North Carolina Central University. The art show brought historically Black colleges or universities, minority-serving institutions and predominantly white schools together through the work of the organizers and Bridging Bulldogs. Former SGA president and event organizer Demon Thomas entailed what Bridging Bulldogs is and how it provided an avenue for this event.

“Bridging Bulldogs is basically about networking amongst HBCUs and PWIs, but the Bridging Bulldogs project comes from us doing events all year,” Thomas said.

Thomas said this collaboration came about as a piece in his and others’ goal to improve the racial justice map of the UNC system.

“I was elected president, and my predecessor and former ASG president, who also served as the UNC Asheville president, Isaiah Green and London Newton, showed me the UNC racial justice roadmap. Within that roadmap, it only had quotes, no action items,” Thomas said.

As a part of this intended expansion and improvement of the racial justice roadmap, Thomas and others came together to make this idea a reality.

“I was like, we should have an art show, and Demon was like, ‘OK, we can definitely do that,’ and we just started planning,” Mangum said.

Thomas and Mangum along with others have worked to put together a show that not only showcases the art and artists, but also memorializes it.

“So in the show, the artists are going to be producing two paintings, and one of the paintings UNCA is going to keep and they’re supposed to be posting it up in the Grotto,” Mangum said.

Thomas spoke about other aspects of the show that served to memorialize and bring attention to the event and its importance.

“We’re doing a documentary the same day, so it’s going to be documented so ASG can have this forever and it’s to show that when two schools come together and create content or just create opportunities for BIPOC students, this is what it looks like. This is what teamwork, this is what Bridging Bulldogs looks like,” Thomas said.

Lauren Braswell, newly elected SGA president, event organizer and artist for the art show, like many artists showcasing their work, spoke about her art pieces.

“My first painting is a Rosie the Riveter inspired piece. I changed up the whole theme and used a Black woman instead. I didn’t want to include the ‘we can do it’ phrase because I see Black women doing it currently. We’ve definitely come out of the shadows we’ve stood in most of time,” Braswell said.

Beyond the visual and the message it sends, this piece holds personal significance to Braswell specifically.

“It’s also inspired by my grandma,” Braswell said, “She did some amazing things during her time that were just breaking boundaries and social norms.”

Braswell’s second piece displayed at the art show holds a different but still personal significance for her.

“The other painting reflects ascension. The lowest color of the vibrational frequencies is red and the highest frequency color is purple. Spiritual ascension is the natural evolutionary process of shedding the old self and experiencing the inner rebirth, so I think that’s body, mind, soul and I just want to remind people to stay conscious about that, and I also used a Black woman because Black women are just on the come up right now and I love what we’re doing and how we’re thriving,” Braswell said.

In terms of goals and hopes for this event, Thomas described UNCA as setting the standard.

“It promotes MSIs and other HBCUs so we’re bridging that gap in the UNC system that they don’t have the racial justice roadmap, so we’re showing them if our small PWI can fund 10 artists, why can’t N.C. State or bigger institutions do the same,” Thomas said.

Another primary goal of this event is representation for BIPOC students. Braswell described her hope for this year and for when this event hopefully returns.

“Everyone should want to be a part of this, all 17 institutions, and that’ll just broaden the whole spectrum. Getting artists’ names out there, showing appreciation,” Braswell said.

Ultimately, as Thomas put it, the long-term goal of this event is to bring importance and growth to the UNC system and its representation and support of BIPOC students.

“Really showing people to actually put their money where their mouth is if they actually care about their BIPOC students,” Thomas said.