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Meet the Artists: ArtsWave 2023 Truth & Healing Artist Showcase

Eighteen of the Cincinnati area’s most prominent artists of color are set to showcase their multidisciplinary works exploring the concepts of healing, rebirth, and reconnecting at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center this summer. 

The nation’s largest community arts campaign, ArtsWave, recently announced that the third annual exhibition for their Black and Brown Artists Program titled Truth & Healing Showcase is scheduled for public viewing July 14-16 and July 30.

The Black and Brown Artists Program supports independent artists of color in the greater Cincinnati area with direct grants of $10,000 each, as well as opportunities for mentorship, business skills training, and networking. Funded artists were selected by a panel based on how their proposal addressed this year’s showcase theme: “Truth & Healing.” 

In a release, ArtsWave shared:

“Projects will explore and build upon the current artistic commentary of health and race and connect it with historical events and visions of a more equitable future.”

To hear more about the genesis of ArtsWave’s Black and Brown Artists program and the outsized impact it’s had in the past three years, listen to the most recent podcast episode with ArtsWave’s VP of Equitable Arts Advancement, Janice Liebenberg.

This year’s showcase features a vibrant collection of diverse art forms created by an equally diverse group of artists. Attendees can expect to enjoy visual art — fashion design, painting, and sculpture — along with video documentaries, musical composition, film, and podcasts. There are also original musical compositions, theater, dance, and multidisciplinary works. 

The projects not only represent the African American experience, but also the experiences of those with Mexican, Lebanese, Somali, Argentinian, Zimbabwean, Guatemalan, and Indigenous heritage.

Because it’s important to support artists, 10% of all revenue Creativity Squared generates goes to ArtsWave and is earmarked for its Black and Brown Artist Program. Creativity Squared will also be interviewing all of the artists, so stay tuned to hear them on the show.

Read on for a quick introduction to the artists and a preview of the works on display. 

Julia Orquera Bianco

Julia Orquera Bianco was born in Argentina in 1981. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Universidad del Museo Social Argentino. In 2018, she graduated from the MFA program at Roski School of Art and Design. In 2020, Bianco earned a Certificate on Sustainability. She is currently a student at Cincinnati Permaculture Institute. Bianco works by interrogating constructs resulting from Modern Western Culture and collective memory through the experience of migration. Identity then becomes something constantly being renegotiated in deep relation with the environment. She uses labor to build knowledge and understanding of place, experiencing it while remembering. 

The tent is made with canvas drop cloth cyanotyped and further intervened by the artist. Part of the cyanotype work was made using organic matter collected in Burnet Woods. Inside the tent, a series of uneven handmade cushions invoke the idea of gathering around a fire. In the center of the tent, stacks of poems written collectively during the “Walking the Winter” sessions can be found. TOGETHERNESS is meant to be inhabited and interacted with. It is a space for healing, rest and reflection. Created with collaboration from: Robin Klebau, Jennifer Beach, Derek Beach, Madelyn McArthur and Curtis Graves. 

To follow up more with Julia and see the other work she’s done, visit her website or follow them (@juliaobianco) on Instagram!

K.A. Simpson

Kareem (K.A.) Antonio Simpson (American, b. 1978) is an author whose work challenges the notion of societal norms. His work has been published and exhibited across the USA and throughout the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region. Simpson is author of “Bro’Kin RIVER” (2021), an original 60-minute stage play, based on the true story of Margaret Garner. Simpson’s other works include “Chronicles of a Boy Misunderstood” (2013), an eye-opening look into the life of Black gay men. 

“FLIPd” is an episodic podcast exploring the historic places and spaces of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Utilizing narrative storytelling, archival audio and immersive soundscapes, “FLIPd” will reframe our understanding of the region’s history by telling the often overlooked African American perspective.

Visit K.A.’s website to learn more about him as an author, and check out his other writings and projects. Give him a follow on Instagram (@ka_simpson) as well!

Michael Thompson

Michael Thompson is an interdisciplinary artist, designer, ethnographer and poet. His practice focuses on human ecology and nuance as he weaves together ancient and contemporary mediums to create multi experiential works of art. He has been awarded the Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, two ArtsWave Grants, the Cincinnati Art Club Award and The Carl B. Westmoreland Fellowship. Michael is a TEDx Speaker and Artist-in-Residence Emeritus at the Cincinnati Art Museum, Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company and Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra. He was a BLINK 2022 Muralist and winner of the largest Secret Walls Battle in history.

“Murmurations” explores the mesmerizing group movement of thousands of starlings as they flock in intricate and undulating patterns during their congregate flight, as well as the power of collective action to protect and progress our communities. The work draws parallels between natural and human systems, recognizing and marveling at the strength and beauty achieved when working for the common good. The project aims to emphasize interconnectedness, resilience and the transformative potential of collaboration by inviting contemplation of our efforts toward justice and dignity. The painting serves as a testament to the collective capacity of voices, actions and aspirations working towards a shared vision.

Learn more about Michael as a multimedia artist, poet, designer, & ethnographer through his website, and be sure to connect with him on Instagram (@michaelthompson.art).

Pablo Mejia

By the age of six, Pablo knew only the life of a lower-class Mexican child, running free through flooded neighborhoods and finding the joy of riding on the back of their mother’s motorcycle. As a young adult, Pablo took road trips through Latin America and began to discover their voice, a product of those who’ve left everything behind. Pablo’s work walks the realities of arrival, with the beauty of new lands and possibility, contrasted with the pain we carried after that point. Pablo’s vision has been compounded by the strength and sacrifice inherent in immigration.

“Lejanía” is a hybrid short film that combines documentary and narrative elements. The story follows three brothers, Hermitanio, Daniel and Juvencio, three real people who are part of the small but thriving Latin community in Cincinnati. The brothers are Pocomam, ​​Mayan Indians from the highlands of eastern Guatemala and speak Spanish as well as their native language, Pocomam. Through intimate conversations, daily rituals and the sharing of their lived experiences, the story details the duality of pain and perseverance after leaving their hometowns to migrate to Cincinnati.

Support Pablo’s work by visiting their website and checking out some of their other projects. Also, follow Pablo on Instagram (@pablo.mijo) to stay connected.

Michael Coppage

Michael Coppage is a conceptual artist using an interdisciplinary, dialectical approach to address social issues. Coppage is the three-time recipient of Artswave’s Truth and Reconciliation grant, Ohio’s Pretrial Justice grant and Awesome Foundation grants in New York and Philadelphia. He is the recipient of the Ohio Arts Council’s Individual Artistic Excellence award and completed a TEDx Talk titled “Everybody’s Racist….and it’s O.K”. His most successful project “BLACK BOX,” a community impact project aimed at demystifying blackness, has impacted over 2 million people in 20 countries to date. Coppage has several public works set for completion in 2023. 

The 12 Commandments series is a play on words using the ten commandments  and “12,” a slang term from rap culture meaning “police.” Directly in conflict with commandments like “thou shalt not kill” and “thou shalt not bear false witness”, police have historically used their power to demonize, arrest, maime and kill black people. The sculpture highlights how even compliance with these commands can end in death, which is out of moral compliance. This project is not meant to demonize police but to highlight the assertion of power over Black bodies and the systemic issues that arise as a result.

Connect with Michael and learn more about what he’s working on through his website, and support him on Instagram at @michael_coppage.

Preston B Charles III

Preston brings the violin outside of the classical realm into a modern, immersive musical experience. It is hard to produce something new in today’s world, but he has steadily produced original tunes playing the violin in a way that demands not just to be heard, but experienced. This past year Preston helped create and score the documentary “A Citizens’ Journey Through Truth & Reconciliation,” a project powered by ArtsWave that  can be found on his website: makeithappenmusic.com.

A dual-media project, “Divided Roots…” utilizes video and audio elements to tell the stories of Cincinnati. A love letter to the region, audiences will be immersed in the community like never before. The good, bad, ugly and everything in between. The project will not only show how African Americans have shaped what Cincinnati is today, but how they’ll continue to shape it in years to come.

To stay in touch with Preston and his music, follow him on Instagram (@preston_bell_charles_iii) and YouTube.

Rebecca Nava Soto

Rebecca Nava Soto is a multidisciplinary Xicanx artist based in Ohio. She uses mixed media painting, digital media and ephemeral installations to explore themes of perception, writing/iconography/language, technology, healing and mysticism.   

Rebecca earned her BFA in Painting from the University of Cincinnati and an MFA in Painting from Boston University. She currently serves on the faculty at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Her artistic practice includes collaborative efforts, public art making and educational workshops focused on Indigenous Mesoamerican art and history. Her latest art series’ have brought awareness and invited public support of contemporary indigenous preservation and regeneration initiatives.

The name of her project is TLACUĀ PAHTIĀ ([náhuatl] /TLA-KWA’/PAH-TI-A’/ To eat. To heal.).  

This immersive installation is a personal poetic response into the healing connection between people, food and earth medicines originating in North American and Mesoamérican indigenous traditions. As culture, science and medical institutions embrace these modalities and bring them into the mainstream, how can we learn from our past and responsibly honor the original holders of this wisdom? This project raises awareness and invites public support of the Indigenous Medicine Conservation Fund, a non-profit dedicated to aiding communities in preserving their heritage, including traditional medicine.

Stay connected with Rebecca through her Instagram (@rebeccanavasoto), and also support her work on her website.

Silas Tibbs

Silas Tibbs (b. 1987) is a formally trained filmmaker, writer and thespian who seeks to use the mesmerizing powers of the cinematic, theatrical and visual arts to articulate the unutterable and deepest longings of every human. His work, though crossing many mediums, forms and genres, seeks to remain deeply human.

In this Orwellian-style science fiction film, the African American experience unfolds in a dystopian future. The aftermath of a devastating protest leads to the establishment of a strict government department, the Department of Social Regulation. The story follows a disillusioned black war veteran and his wife, who, after enduring years of disillusionment, undergo a final interview for an opportunity that holds the potential to change their lives. As their interview approaches, they grapple with the oppressive system and the difficult choices they must make to navigate the intricacies of the African American experience within this Orwellian world.

Visit Silas’ website to learn more about his experience, view his gallery, and schedule a booking with him.

Rowan Salem

Rowan Salem is a dance artist and educator originally from Massachusetts, currently based in Cincinnati. Rowan earned an MFA in Choreography and Performance as a Teaching Fellow/Gretchen Moran Scholar at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Her work incorporates compositional improvisation, exploring perspective shifts through choreography and performance, all through her embodied experience as an LGBTQ person. She is a recipient of ArtsWave’s 2023 Black and Brown artists grant for her work. Current teaching affiliations include Xavier University, Northern Kentucky University and Cincinnati Ballet Academy at the Cincinnati Ballet.

Highlighting the stories of Cincinnati residents of Middle Eastern descent, “Viewpoints Embodied…” is a series of interviews and dance films. Dance has the potential to uncover new points of view and showcase the diversity of backgrounds that make our communities stronger. 

Learn more about Rowan’s work and view her gallery on her website, and stay connected through her Instagram (@rrowmansalemm).

Alan Lawson

Alan Lawson is a musician and composer from Cincinnati, Ohio. At the age of four, he began playing the violin and soon after, started writing down the music that he heard in his head. Over the years he’s won multiple awards including 2nd place in the NAACP National Act-So competition for contemporary music in 2008 and 1st place at the local level for classical music, contemporary music and music composition in 2008-10. His love of music has also led him to perform in prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall, the Lincoln Center, the White House and Cincinnati’s own Music Hall. 

“Legacy” is an original music composition for full orchestra (strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion), written to honor those who have fought for marginalized poeple’s rights throughout history. Celebrating MLK’s march on Washington, the piece encompasses the feelings of strength, determination and unity, telling an inspirational story through the universal language of music. 

To stay in touch with Alan and up to date on his work, connect with him on LinkedIn.

Asha Ama

ASHA AMA is a fashion designer and Project Runway All-Star. She has designed for Zendaya, Little Big Town and Lizzo’s “Special” tour. As a Black woman, she often is misunderstood, but is able to thrive in fashion because she was raised with a great Knowledge of Self that she tries to impart to others. In 2021, Cincinnati proclaimed Asha Ama Bias-Daniels Day and she was the Taft Museum’s Duncanson Artist in Residence. In 2022, she debuted her NEW MOON collection and exhibit to two sold out shows at the Contemporary Arts Center and later showed at the Cincinnati Art Museum.

“AGAPE” is a couture collection of men’s and womenswear, exploring gender fluidity and Black people’s intentional separation in relation to our unique ability to possess AGAPE love. The world has strategically broken down our connection to our own identity and each other. Yet, Black people still find ways to dream, find each other and love-it’s in our blood. We are the survivors of those that chose to survive and our entire existence is made from pure, selfless love. What happens when we fulfill the prophecy and fall in love with each other again?

Visit ASHA’s website to learn more about her experience and check out her other collections, and follow her on Instagram (@ashaamaofficial) to see more of her incredible design work.

Chenelle Jones

Camille Jones is a dancer with (CA)^2 (pronounced see-ay-squared), a creative street dance troupe founded by black women driven to uplift latent passion in all people through dance. (CA)^2 is an acronym for confidently creating active achievers. As teammates, Camille Jones, Chenelle Jones and Anaya Ni’Kole of (CA)^2 perform street dance, a fusion of authentic Hip Hop and contemporary original choreography/freestyle. 

This project elevates the artistic practices of dance and DJing as modes of storytelling. The three-part story utilizes the mythology of Yemaya to explore the journey and battle for self-acceptance faced by women of the African Diaspora. (CA)^2 Dance Crew will lead the audience through each part of the story through dynamic dance. Ultimately, the message is one of defiance and representative of Black Women reclaiming the right to live fully human existences free from confining standards, bigoted opinions and racist/sexist barriers that poison our sense of self-worth and hinder our spiritual ascension. 

To learn more about her experience and check out (CA)^2’s other projects, follow both accounts on Instagram (@jones.camille) and (CA)^2’s (@ca2dancecrew).

Brent Billingsly

Brent Billingsley is an artist and an empowering voice behind youth. He is also a Behavioral Health Specialist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center/Psychiatry and the CEO of ARTE. ARTE is a non-profit geared toward the utilization of therapeutic artistic engagement and the performance arts. The goal is to utilize art as rhetorical vernacular and encourage people to do something they have never done before, acknowledge the exertion, forfeit maladaptive ideations and, upon one’s own artistic epiphany, act on it.  Brent believes that the world can be changed through art, through children and through us. 

A continuation of the “I’m Listening” project showcasing police/community engagement, the final product of “I’m Still Listening” is a line of hand-designed, costume-painted, artistically-rendered garments created by high school students. With content arising from a series of facilitated discussions with students, teachers and police, the creation of these t-shirts empower youth through creativity, design, relationship building, self-esteem, continuity of care, artistic drainage of emotions, focus and fun.

Support Brent’s work and learn more about him by visiting his website, or give him a follow on Instagram (@brentlavelle1) and YouTube!

Daniel Chimusoro

Daniel Chimusoro’s work as a musical and visual artist explores his complex relationship as a first-generation immigrant navigating his adopted home while seeking to find love, healing and community in a culture grappling with a complicated history.

“Nomad” is a series of songs written from the author’s experience over a two-year period exploring life as an immigrant and the challenges that can exist between two polarized spaces. Themes of love, heartbreak, the pursuit of ‘fitting in’, the unintentional consequences of expressing ‘self’ through hair, art and more fill the songs with a universality that ultimately points to healing and belonging.

Stay connected with Daniel on his Instagram account for his music (@danielnoelmusicofficial), and also his photography/videography work(@danielchimusorophotoandvideo). Give him a listen/follow on Spotify as well!

Deqah Hussein-Wetzel

Deqah Hussein-Wetzel is an artist, preservationist and urban historian who uses creative and innovative mediums, like her podcast Urban Roots, to uplift and amplify Black voices. As co-host/producer of Urban Roots, her work dives deep to unearth little-known stories from urban history by speaking directly to communities impacted by top-down urban planning practices like urban renewal and gentrification. Deqah is also the founder of an anti-racist community preservation nonprofit called Urbanist Media which seeks to elevate underrepresented voices by helping preserve the stories and places significant to people of color.

“Historical Perspectives on Urban Renewal in Cincinnati: A Community Retrospective” is a documentary on the impact of Interstates 71 and 74 on three predominantly African American neighborhoods in Cincinnati: Evanston, Avondale and South Cumminsville. Built in the name of urban renewal, Interstates have a complicated place in American history: they provided many with direct access to the city center, but they also systematically divided and confined Black communities to certain geographic boundaries. These projects triggered decades of disinvestment and socio-economic decline that still affects historically Black neighborhoods today. The documentary offers audiences an immersive, human-centered view into how urban renewal segregated and disadvantaged Black communities.

Check out Dequah’s digital portfolio and other works, including her preservation photography, digital media and and podcasting on her website.

Desirae Hosley

Desirae “The Silent Poet” Hosley was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. Known for being the quietest person on the scene, it’s astounding to see such a little lady with such a big voice that packs a powerful punch. She is a spoken word artist, motivational speaker, actress and community organizer. After being a peer advocate and rape crisis counselor, her poetry helps the reader to open their hearts and minds. Applauded for not being apologetic for any of the words that come out of her mouth, this has helped her be fearless and attain many of her great accomplishments.

“Social Therapy: Are We Healed?” is a five-part documentary series with a live audience, featuring an open dialogue questioning whether the arts are a healing source for the BIPOC community or a trigger of recurring events without restoration of peace. These conversations will open the door to understanding how an artist’s art is more than a conversation but a way to rebuild connection after grieving past experiences.

Follow Desirae on Instagram (@iamthsilentpoet) and YouTube to stay in touch and learn more about her as an artist!

Dr. Jason C White

Dr. Jason C. White is an accomplished actor, award-winning playwright, arts researcher and educator. As a playwright, his work helps audiences consider American history from diverse perspectives. White is best known as the writer of the multi-award nominated and NAACP award-winning educational play, “The Dance: The History of American Minstrelsy.” White is an Assistant Professor and the Coordinator of the Arts Administration Minor in the Department of Art at Xavier University. In addition, White is the author of the book “Innovation in the Arts: Concepts, Theories and Practices,” a Routledge publication in the Global Creative Economy series. 

“Keep the Faith” is a new community musical about the history of The Black Church from 1619 to now. This project was inspired by Dr. Henry Louis Gates’ PBS mini-series “The Black Church.” According to Dr. Gates, “The foundation of the African American spiritual journey was formed out of fragments of faith that our ancestors brought to this continent.” Together with diverse members of the local Cincinnati community, Dr. Jason C. White (Assistant Professor of Arts Administration at Xavier University) and Terry Ridley (Music Director at New Life Temple Church) will facilitate a one-hour demonstration of the first act. Q&A to follow.

Be sure to follow Dr. Jason C. White on LinkedIn to stay connected and learn more about him as an art researcher, educator, author, and strategist.

Gabriel Martínez Rubio

Gabriel has developed his career as a dancer and choreographer between Mexico and the United States, working with different dance and theater companies, including Cincinnati’s Mutual Dance Theatre. In 2019, he created Dos-Corazones Productions which connects the Hispanic community with the greater Cincinnati community. In 2021 and 2022, Gabriel received the Black and Brown Artist Program Grant from ArtsWave. He created “NOSOTROS/US” a dance piece including video interviews about being an immigrant in Cincinnati; and “Monarca – Lost Butterfly (In Memoriam),” a multidisciplinary piece which pays homage to those who are lost during their immigration journey.

“Pato y Muerte” is a playful dance-theater performance with a message suitable for children and adults. The original script was based on a German tale and reflects the understanding of death, friendship, and loyalty in Mexico and other Latin cultures. Death simply serves as a “friendly” reminder that although we mourn, we also celebrate life, loyalty and friendship. Through this celebration, and the bonds we create with others, our loved ones continue living.

This project also includes free dance workshops for children in Spanish and English, taking place in areas of the city accessible to diverse communities. Follow Gabriel on Instagram (@gabriel.martinezrubio.10) to stay in touch!