Shoreigh Williams’ piece presented in the Future Matriarchs exhibition at the Mesa Community College Art Gallery, on Feb. 1, 2024. (Photo by Kat Carlson/The Mesa Legend)

Black women in Mesa celebrated at Mesa Community College Art Gallery

Mesa Community College celebrated black women’s history in Mesa with a new art installation that will run from Feb. 1 to April 1 at the MCC Art Gallery.

The installation features two exhibitions: “Future Matriarchs” and “Matriarchy of Washington Park”.

“Today marks the first day of Black History Month, all of February, and then March is Women’s History Month,” said Tracey Blocker, gallery coordinator at MCC. “We had this idea to do two exhibitions on either side of the gallery that really honor both Black history and women,” added Blocker.

The south gallery displays the first of two exhibits, the Future Matriarchs. According to Blocker, each piece in this exhibition was handpicked by the co-curator Antoinette Cauley. The art was all created by local women artists who work in mixed media, like fiber arts, paintings, film and ceramics.

Cauley is MCC’s Artist-In-Residence and herself attended MCC where she studied Fine Arts with an emphasis in painting. According to Blocker, Cauley sought out artists for this exhibition that are known for being active in the community and work to highlight the issues that are important to them. 

The back half of the gallery displays the exhibition titled Matriarchs of Washington Park and was curated by Bruce Nelson. 

Three portraits and an authentic outfit featured at the Matriarchs of Washington Park exhibit at the Mesa Community College Art Gallery, on Feb. 1, 2024. (Photo by Kat Carlson/The Mesa Legend)

Nelson is an independent curator and documentary filmmaker from Mesa whose work focuses heavily on his experiences of living in the once segregated Washington-Escobedo neighborhood in Mesa.

This traveling exhibition displays historic portraits of different black women who lived in Washington Park and who were pillars of the community.

“These were the women who were the school teachers, they were the educators, they were the medical workers, they delivered babies as midwives, they were domestic workers and almost all of them actually picked cotton in the cotton fields here in Mesa. So this is a really important part of Mesa history, and actually Phoenix history,” said Blocker.

According to Blocker, this exhibition is Nelson’s way of honoring these women and sharing their history and the history of Mesa, while giving viewers a glimpse into what it was like to live in this particular neighborhood in Mesa at that time. Nelson knew each of the women featured in the portraits personally. 

Nelson’s exhibition also features period dress, outfits that were actually worn by the women in the exhibition, and a three minute film on a loop which gives a history of the making of the actual exhibition. The film shows how the paintings were painted and provides more information about the lives of the different women. 

At the heart of the exhibition is Nelson’s mother. In her retirement she worked with the senior center teaching seniors to paint and was Nelson’s muse and inspiration for the show, according to Blocker.  The gallery will host a reception on Feb 28 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

All artists and their families will be invited, as well as students and any members of the community who have an interest. There will be refreshments, and Blocker said that they hope to have speakers in attendance.

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