Navigating Columbus

A Journey Through the Recent Inaugural Black Fine Art Fair of Ohio

By D. Amari Jackson

The journey began in the West—that is, with the colorful artistic profiles of Indianapolis’ Kevin Nance West. West’s vibrant display was the first I came across upon entering the fair during Wednesday setup, amidst intermittent whizzing of power drills, the day before its official opening.

Zora was there in rich color, as was Ali, Langston, Baldwin, Josh Gibson, Jimmy Hendrix, Nina Simone, August Wilson, Mahalia Jackson, and Romare Bearden, the latter in his iconic slanted-brim, cigarette-dangling-from-lip, eyeing-you-back posture. West brought out the sistas as well, the sistas in the choir—young sistas from our family, our community, all our communities—knowingly singing their praises, knowing the answers to their melodic prayers were rapidly en route, for God had never failed them before and, surely, would not do so now, certainly not now, because they’d come too far by faith. Surrounding them all were the children, the Black, the beautiful, the joyful, vulnerable, pensive, animated children, wide-eyed, looking for magic, looking for love, as children often do.

West told me of his own journey, how he recently became a full-time artist; how he works his magic 12 hours a day in a modest space in the back of a coffee shop ‘cross the street from his Indianapolis crib; how he’d given up a college basketball scholarship to pursue his art; how this was his first show outside of Indianapolis; how supportive his wife and daughter are; how he’d educated himself on himself by way of his people, his beautiful culture and people, through his art.

Photo Credit: Kevin Nance-West

A booth over, Thomas Elias Lockhart detailed his works for me including Amazing Grace, a stunning African woman with closely cropped hair and a poignant, sullen gaze, her eyes dotted by inverted Klan hoods from which two parallel, elongated tears streamed down each cheek, one culminating in a dangling gun, the other, a young brother dangling lifelessly from a noose.

Such was the compelling scene at the inaugural Black Fine Art Fair of Ohio held in Columbus from November 11 – 14, a four-day event hosted by the KBK Foundation, a non-profit founded to empower residents by facilitating their road toward self-sufficiency. Organized by art investment strategist Keith Golden, participating galleries included Golden’s Art by Golden, I am Art Wilson, Pigment International, Thelma Harris Art Gallery, WaterKolours Fine Art, and Black Art In America (BAIA).

When you talk about African and African-American culture and history, imagery is one of the strongest resources to be able to prove that it’s true,” Golden told BAIA’s Najee Dorsey, before the event. “Once you establish that and you educate people about your culture, now that you’re into the fine art room, use fine art to show that this is what we’ve been doing all along. This is why people are wanting this culture. It’s because they see the authenticity. People want to spend money on things that are authentic and true.”

Along with Nance and Lockhart, the fair featured such onsite artistic legends as James Denmark and master printmaker, Curlee Holton; the rich, divinely-inspired visual imagery of Ohio native Roderick Vines; and the unmistakable mixed media collages of Dorsey, while displaying works by the likes of Elizabeth Catlett, Faith Ringgold, Charles White, Charly Palmer, Romare Bearden, Danny Simmons, Phyllis Stephens, Samella Lewis, Sam Gilliam, Mildred Thompson, William Tolliver, Gwendolyn Aqui-brooks, David Driskell, George Hunt, Kerry James Marshall, Kevin Cole, Khalif Thompson, Mason Archie, Paul Goodnight, Kevin Johnson, and more. Weekend panels and lectures were held on a variety of art-related and educational topics including appraisals and conservation, portfolio development, legacy collecting, the Black Art “Gold Rush,” and Women in the Fine Art Movement.

Curlee Holton with his copies of BAIA

But even with all the stunning imagery, informative panels, and industry talks, the fair was more than that, more than a mere event to discuss, showcase, and, of course, sell art, which it did, given the numerous and successful transactions over the four-day event. Indeed, it was also a gathering of longtime friends, colleagues, and art lovers who mostly had not seen one another over the tumultuous past two years given global events and the shutting down of such venues.

Accordingly, some of the best moments of the week occurred before and after the scheduled activities of any given day, during setup, or special breakfasts reserved for the artists and organizers, or at day’s end, when old friends celebrated being back in each other’s space by ordering food and drink, listening to music, playing spades, laughing like schoolkids, talkin’ schmack, and remembering why such events are ultimately worth the effort, the cross-country road trips to get there, the arduous setting up and breaking down of installations, the leaving-behind of their loved ones for the better part of a week. Yes, they were reminded that an investment in art—their own investment in their own art—was certainly valuable, was, undoubtedly, well worth it.

‘Round the corner from West, Stuart McClean’s booth was adorned with vibrant, colorful images that told a story, an epic account of culture, of migration, of survival, of history, of knowledge, of youth, of the ancestors, of the rich diversity of the African Diaspora. A native of Trinidad, McClean told me how he once designed belts for major companies, celebrities, and high-end boutiques; how he’d rediscovered his painting mojo in the late ‘80s upon applying acrylic paint to clothing; how his soaring visual works incorporate a myriad of themes from capitalism to Hip Hop; how he commonly paints young Black men without mouths to represent their voicelessness; how he strategically embeds sneakers into his pieces as a corporate critique.  

“The younger generations have brought back companies that were totally gone,” stressed McClean, noting how corporations like Timberland have profited from young Black consumers and, consistently, how “all of these companies were resurrected from nothing into something.” He pointed to the massive global economic impact of youth culture, particularly here at home. “You can’t forget the younger generations because they have helped build this country, helped make this country,” acknowledged McClean, insisting that “Hip Hop is here to stay” and “we should embrace it” rather than “push it away.”

“Emancipation” by Stuart McClean

The same applies to Black art as such messaging is, fortunately, attracting younger people to such events given the significant amount of young folk who popped up at the fair in Columbus. As an appropriate representation of these generational dynamics, 24-year-old Keith B. Key, Jr.—son of KBK Foundation chair and prominent art collector, Keith B. Key, Sr., and a budding collector himself—was a constant presence at the fair, engaging artists and attendees while putting them on notice that the legacy will continue through he and his sisters, Danielle and Darienne, both high-ranking officers in their father’s real estate development firm, KBK Enterprises. The young Keys told Dorsey and I how he is already getting a number of his sports and celebrity peers into collecting Black art.

And how, he told us, this successful four-day event in Columbus, Ohio was just the beginning.


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AMARI JACKSON is a creator, author, TV/web/film producer, and award-winning journalist. He is author of the 2011 novel, The Savion Sequence; creator/writer/coproducer of the 2012-2014 web series The Book Look; writer/coproducer of the 2016 film Edge of the Pier; and current writer/coproducer of Listen Up! on HBCU GO/Roku TV. He is a former Chief of Staff for a NJ State Senator; a former VP of Communications & Development for the Jamestown Project at Harvard University; and a recipient of several writing fellowships including the George Washington Williams Fellowship from the Independent Press Association. An active ghost writer, song writer, martial artist, and journalist, his writings have appeared in a wide variety of national and regional publications.


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