Visual Voices

VISUAL VOICES 2018: KING/DUNBAR PROJECT is at the Schuster Center February 11-March 30, 2018.

Visual Voices 2018

Each year, Victoria Theatre Association partners with Shango: Center for the Study of African American Art and Culture, and Willis “Bing” Davis, exhibit curator and director of EbonNia Gallery, to display an exhibit of art by local African-American artists inside the Schuster Center. This year, as the city of Dayton joins the nation in commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the KING/DUNBAR PROJECT was designed to celebrate the life and work of Dr. King through the literary voice of Dayton poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar.

The KING/DUNBAR PROJECT is one of the major programs of Shango: Center for the Study of African-American Art and Culture, the non-profit wing of the Davis Art Studio in the Wright Dunbar Historic District. Corporate support has been received from the Dayton Power & Light Foundation, The Dayton Foundation African-American Community Fund, and ZIKS Family Pharmacy.

The 2018 exhibit will be displayed February 11-March 30 at the Schuster Center, April-June at the EbonNia Gallery on West Third Street, and at DP&L Headquarters during June and July.

If your group would like a tour of the exhibit while it’s at the Schuster Center, please email visualvoices@victoriatheatre.com or call 937-228-7591, ext. 3032.

Artist And Clergy James PateARTIST AND CLERGY” (Inspired By “Sympathy” by Paul Laurence Dunbar) | James Pate, Artist | 33” x 56” | Price On Request

“ARTIST AND CLERGY” merges Paul Laurence Dunbar’s iconic poem “Sympathy” with the image of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. behind bars. With “Sympathy,” which was first published in 1899 by Dodd, Mead and Company, Dunbar calls attention to the plight of a caged bird and its fight for freedom that caused its wings to bleed. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s landmark 1963 writing, “A Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” served as further inspiration to render a work that embodies the universal message and reminder that nothing was created to be caged and no one should be detained for standing up and speaking out against apartheid and bigotry toward the hue of one’s feathers.

Read the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem that inspired this piece: “Sympathy”

A Warriors Prayer Dance Mask Willis Bing Davis“A WARRIOR’S PRAYER DANCE MASK” (Inspired By “The Warrior’s Prayer” by Paul Laurence Dunbar) | Willis Bing Davis, Artist | Clay & Found Objects | 60” x 12” x 5” | $1,200

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will forever be associated with the African American Civil Rights struggle. The struggle is defined in many ways – even as a war – a war against racism, bigotry, segregation and poverty. Those who work in the struggle are often viewed as warriors. There have been many warriors in the struggle for freedom and justice; warriors like Reverend Fred Shuttleworth, Reverend Joseph Lowery, Fanny Lou Hanner, Malcolm X, Paul Robeson, W.S. McIntosh, and many others.

The fight for freedom and justice is a long struggle. It’s a war made more difficult because of the need to have to refight old battles of systematic racism, bigotry, and segregation.

With Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in mind, I began a search of works of Paul Laurence Dunbar that might relate to the life and work of one of our great warriors, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I found a Dunbar poem that I was not familiar with, but made me think of Dr. King. The poem is titled, “The Warrior’s Prayer.”

Read the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem that inspired this piece: “The Warrior’s Prayer”

Brown Targets Bleed Red Al Harden“BROWN TARGETS BLEED RED” (Inspired By “Life” by Paul Laurence Dunbar) | Al Harden, Artist | Photography – Giclée | 24” x 20” | $495

The struggle Continues, Brown targets bleed red.

Shot in the back, chest or head, Brown targets bleed red.

Whether its drugs, poverty or lead. Brown targets bleed red.

Black, white, brown, yellow or red, all targets bleed red.

Read the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem that inspired this piece: “Life”

Civil Rights Sermon In An Ante Bellum Church Abner Cope“CIVIL RIGHTS SERMON IN AN ANTE BELLUM CHURCH” (Inspired By “An Ante-Bellum Sermon” by Paul Laurence Dunbar) | Abner Cope, Artist | Oil | 24” x 20” | $5,000

I have selected as the catalyst for my work, the poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar entitled “An Ante-Bellum Sermon.” This poem, by Dunbar, brings out the parallels between the impact that religion had on slaves during the antebellum period, and the affect that religion had on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermons, speeches, and marches during the civil rights movement.

Read the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem that inspired this piece: “An Ante-Bellum Sermon”

Dusk Lois Fortson Kirk“DUSK” (Inspired By “Dawn” by Paul Laurence Dunbar) | Lois Fortson-Kirk, Artist | Clay | 12” x 9” & 9” x 7” | $2,000 (set)

Through all the sorrows of what it means to be black in America, hope is born, in an assurance of justice in a world beyond this world. Through Paul Laurence Dunbar and Martin Luther King Jr. we catch a glimpse of what old folks use to call “the third eye.” Scriptures say loosely, “if the only hope that we have is in this world, we are miserable.” Paul Laurence Dunbar catches a brief glimpse of a substantive way to confront trials and difficulties of the world’s problems. Adversities came in Dunbar’s life, racism, poverty, health issues, marital. Some of his highest hopes casted into nothingness, dreams shattered, Dunbar was convinced that Christianity had not forgotten that we would have these experiences. There will be the shimmering sunlight of summer, and the bitter cold of a winter’s day in Ohio. In Dunbar’s poem “Dawn,” the angel represents who God is and what God does best, when he bends down and kisses the sleeping night.

Read the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem that inspired this piece: “Dawn”

Flag Of Equality Derrick Davis“FLAG OF EQUALITY” (Inspired By “Keep A-Pluggin’ Away” by Paul Laurence Dunbar) | Derrick Davis, Artist | Prismacolor Pencil & Collage | 22 ¾” x 15” | $500

Before this project began, I saw Paul Lawrence Dunbar and Martin Luther King as icons, separate, but with equal influence. Of course, we know the activism and peaceful protest that King used in his fight for equality. The mistake that I made was to categorize Dunbar as just a poet. Dunbar was responsible for novels, newspaper articles, and lyrics for Broadway musicals, short stories and ballads. It would be mistaken to list Dunbar as just a poet, just as it would be mistaken that King was fighting just for people of color. What makes this extraordinary is that Dunbar’s literary achievements were done at a time when African-Americans were denied a formal education. To accomplish what he did at that time through his writings and intellect, and shine amongst his counterparts, was the epitome of equality.

Read the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem that inspired this piece: “Keep A-Pluggin’ Away”

He Had His Dream Morris Howard“HE HAD HIS DREAM” (Inspired By “He Had His Dream” by Paul Laurence Dunbar) | Morris Howard, Artist | Oil | 24” x 18” | $1,800

I chose Dunbar’s “He Had His Dream,” a poem about a man who worked hard and hoped for better things to come. He said, “The tempest will be short, my bark will come to port.” He saw through every cloud a gleam – “He Had His Dream.” Through the dark clouds of a segregated America, Dr. King indeed “saw through every cloud a gleam.” His organizing of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 dismantled segregation in public transportation in that city, which led to the Supreme Court declaring bus segregation unconstitutional in 1956. Over the next several years, bus segregation fell in many southern cities, including Baton Rouge and Tallahassee, as a result of black boycotts or legal challenges. (Alton Hornsby Jr., Economic Policy Institute).

Read the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem that inspired this piece: “He Had His Dream”

Lessons From The Past Dwayne Daniel“LESSONS FROM THE PAST” (Inspired By “Fredrick Douglass” by Paul Laurence Dunbar) | Dwayne Daniel, Artist | Digital Image | 30” x 40” | $2,600

After the death of Frederick Douglass, Dunbar expresses his grief for the loss of a friend, his hatred of the evils and treachery that surround African-Americans by way of the memorial poem, “Frederick Douglass.” Dunbar’s poem, “Frederick Douglass,” could also describe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. years before his birth. If the title of the poem “Frederick Douglass” was named “Martin Luther King Jr.” the poem would not lose its relevance; it would be an accurate representation of the aftermath of King’s death as well as it was for the death of Douglass.

Read the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem that inspired this piece: “Frederick Douglass”

Life Horace Dozier Sr“LIFE” (Inspired By “Life” by Paul Laurence Dunbar) | Horace Dozier, Artist | Digital Photograph/Color Panoramic | 21” x 40” | $1,750

On Palm Sunday April 14, 1957, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his Garden of Gethsemane Sermon at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. As Dr. King continues in his message showing there’s not a person who has not at some time been pushed to the rugged edges of life, he connected this experience through one of Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s poems by saying “We can hear that noble Negro poet in the midst of the streak of his poetic genius, crying out about life”: A crust of bread and a corner to sleep in, A minute to smile and an hour to weep in, A pint of joy to a peck of trouble, And never a laugh but the moans come double, And that is life. This artistic piece was inspired by the original living room of Paul Lawrence Dunbar photographed from his home located at 219 N. Paul Laurence Dunbar St. in Dayton, Ohio.

Read the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem that inspired this piece: “Life”

Rugged Ways Do You Hear The Echoes The Path Echoes Kevin Harris“RUGGED WAYS (EXPLAIN FREEDOM) – #1,” “THE PATH (DOES IT EXPLODE?) – #3,” “DO YOU HEAR THE ECHOES (STAY WOKE) – #2” & “ECHOES (DREAMS ARE SWEET) – #4” (Inspired By “By Rugged Ways,” “Dreams,” “He Had His Dream,” & “When Malindy Sings” by Paul Laurence Dunbar) | Kevin Harris, Artist | Digital Images | 16” x 16”| Not For Sale

“RUGGED WAYS” and “THE PATH” are montages of images culled from the internet. The work of Bob Adelman, Robert Cohen, Richard Copley, Bruce Davidson, Abe Van Dyke, Gene Herrick, Bill Hudson, Lucas Jackson, James Karales, Spider Martin, Charles Moore, Scott Olson, Jack Thornell, Ernest Withers and others were directly appropriated or served as inspiration for these visually layered pieces. The images used in “RUGGED WAYS” were selected as visual metaphors of various lines of Dunbar’s poem, “By Rugged Ways.” Civil Rights fighters march “onward, onward” supported by “faith,” “serene” in the face of violent “cruel thorns beside the road…”

“THE PATH” uses photographs of clashes between the police, vigilante mobs and Civil Rights Freedom Fighters. Victims of brutality, those “whose backs have felt the rod, / Whose feet have pressed the path unshod…” The image is intended to be dark, chaotic and violent.

The title of “DO YOU HEAR THE ECHOES” is borrowed from a line in Dunbar’s poem, “When Malindy Sings.” The sound of Malindy singing is so beautiful it silences birds. The echoes of her vocals fill the hills and valleys. The sound of her song is something to be reckoned with. As are the words of Dunbar and King, skilled at wordplay, gifted at oration.

“ECHOES” symbolizes Paul Laurence Dunbar having a precognitive dream of Martin Luther King Jr. and Martin Luther King Jr. dreaming of the legacy of Paul Laurence Dunbar.

Read the Paul Laurence Dunbar poems that inspired this piece: “By Rugged Ways,” “Dreams,” “He Had His Dream,” “When Malindy Sings”

There Comes A Time Yvette Walker Dalton“THERE COMES A TIME” (Inspired By “The Seedling” by Paul Laurence Dunbar) | Yvette Walker Dalton, Artist | Collage | 38” x 10” | $1,200

To be an African-American is to know that certain discriminations, injustices, and inequalities are based on race/color/origin and rooted in the beginning of slavery in the United States (1619). It took about 350 years before many human rights became rights for all, thanks to the stubbornness of Rosa Parks who would not give up her bus seat to a white man, the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the encouragement, leadership and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others in the Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968).

On December 5, 1955, King energized the continuation of the bus boycott and thus the Civil Rights Movement when he addressed close to 4,000 people gathered inside and outside the Holt Street Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Like King’s address, Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “The Seedling” realizes “There comes a time” when one can no longer experience the dark and bleakness of existence and must step out on the audacity of hope in search for a better and productive life.

Read the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem that inspired this piece: “The Seedling”

This Old House Al Harden“THIS OLD HOUSE” (Inspired By “The Sparrow” by Paul Laurence Dunbar) | Al Harden, Artist | Photography – Giclée | 24” x 20” | $459

Martin Luther King as Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Sparrow;

Did he sit on one window sill or did he visit them all trying to sing so we can heed his call.

Although we did not listen to his wonderful tone our hearts were hardened to his song.

Like this house our nation is in disorder searching for its boards and borders.

Did he perch at the window of injustice singing for a better day, or did he fly by the window of inequality hoping for the wind to sway, or did he hop to the window sill of civil liberties to give us all the vote, or maybe he brightened the window of poverty to give us hope.

Settling on the window of Peace was his final call hoping to bring Justice, Equality, Liberty, Abundance and Peace to all.

Read the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem that inspired this piece: “The Sparrow”

We Wear The Mask Craig Screven“WE WEAR THE MASK” (Inspired By “We Wear The Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar) | Craig Screven, Artist | Digital Image| 24” x 16” | $1,000

Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “We Wear the Mask” was first published in 1896. He wrote about the injustice and inequality of African-Americans. Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “We Wear the Mask” shows how some African-Americans dealt with the injustice and inequality during this time. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for justice, equality, and peace for African-Americans in 1960s. “We Wear the Mask” relates to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and works because he responded to his audience. No matter what situation he was in, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used one united voice. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s response was to show the people through his own actions what was right. He had to talk and be peacefully rebellious within the law hoping his peaceful rebellion would change the life of African-Americans in the future. Paul Laurence Dunbar writes about changes or dreams that would cause us not to wear the mask. He longed for a time when African-Americans would be able to show their true identity without the backlash of discrimination.

Read the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem that inspired this piece: “We Wear The Mask”

Why Fades A Dream Cliff Darrett“WHY FADES A DREAM” (Inspired By “He Had His Dream” by Paul Laurence Dunbar) | Clifford Darrett, Artist | Oil| 44” x 34”| $3,000

Another poem of Paul Laurence Dunbar, that says men should stop dreaming and start thinking. Martin Luther King Jr., spoke of racial injustice in his “I have A Dream” speech in 1963 and he urged the crowd gathered to go back to their communities to demand their rights as Americans. He advocated non-violence, he also said:

“Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.”

Read the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem that inspired this piece: “He Had His Dream”


Full artist statements and details about all of these works of art are available at the exhibit and in the Visual Voices 2018 Souvenir Program.

Visual Voices 2017

DAYTON SKYSCRAPERS 10TH ANNIVERSARY celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Skyscrapers Art Exhibit project at the Schuster Center. Emerging to mid-career African-American visual artists from the Miami Valley researched prominent African-American’s (living or deceased) who have made a mark in their field and are role models for the community. The artists then wrote an essay about their life and work and featured the “skyscraper” in an original work of art that was displayed in a professional gallery exhibition. Artists featured in the exhibit included Abner Cope, Andrea Walker Cummings, Yvette Walker Dalton, Clifford Darrett, Dwayne Daniel, Willis “Bing” Davis, Lois Fortson, Kevin Harris, Morris Howard, James Pate, Craig Screven, and Frances Turner.

Visual Voices 2016

VISUAL VOICES 2016: BLACK LIFE as subject MATTER reflected the broad and diverse range of African-American life through the eyes of emerging and mid-career African-American visual artists from the Dayton and Miami Valley region. The 2016 exhibit featured the work of 16 local African-American visual artists and a recent Dayton Public School graduate. The exhibit provided opportunities for the Dayton and Miami Valley region to share, celebrate, and honor the importance of Black life. The BLACK LIFE as subject MATTER art exhibit was curated by Willis “Bing” Davis with assistance from fellow Dayton artists Dwayne Daniel, Derrick Davis, and James Pate and featured Francine Bankston, Andrea Walker-Cummings, Dwayne Daniel, Clifford Darrett, Derrick Davis, Willis “Bing” Davis, Al Harden, Kevin Harris, Morris Howard, Carolyn Moore, Robert Parkey III, James Pate, Craig Screven, Chris Turner, and Frances Turner.

Visual Voices 2015

Students from the Ponitz Career Technology Center (Dayton Public Schools) received specialized interview technique training and worked with the artists in that year’s Visual Voices 2015: Dayton Skyscrapers to record and edit interviews about their art. Hear their stories at soundcloud.com/victoriatheatre.

Visual Voices 2014

Featuring a concert with the Ohio Players, Visual Voices 2014: Visions Of Dayton Funk challenged artists challenged to create visual art that captures the essence and flavor of the Dayton funk sound. Students from the Ponitz Career Technology Center (Dayton Public Schools) trained with WYSO 91.3FM Community Voices radio project to record and edit interviews with the artists, musicians and others about the artists’ creative process and to provide a historical perspective on the Dayton funk movement. Hear their stories at soundcloud.com/victoriatheatre.