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Saturday, June 15, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane Arts turns focus to artists of color for Black History Month

Artist Salik Sevilles, poses for a photo in his home on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017, in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Artist Salik Sevilles, poses for a photo in his home on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017, in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
By Audrey Overstreet For The Spokesman-Review

Artist Salik Seville has been battling stereotypes all his life, even when it comes to his own art.

“People would never identify me with that,” Seville said, pointing to the dozens of vibrant canvases he spent countless hours painting and hanging in his home in East Central Spokane. “I got people around here, who have asked me, ‘Who helped you make those?’ ”

Why would people question whether he creates and paints on his own?

“I think it’s a combination of me being a black man and a big black man,” Seville said. “It kind of frightens people … I just want them to see the work.”

The public will be able to see Seville’s work all February, along with more than 30 other artists of color at more than 20 venues, as part of Saturate. The citywide collaboration was created by the nonprofit Spokane Arts to focus attention on Spokane’s diverse yet under-recognized artists of color.

Saturate launches its first-ever arts tour this weekend at venues all over town on Feb. 3, 4 and 5, featuring art, performances, dance, poetry and perspectives. Included are local artists who are African American, Native American, Latino and Asian, and who see the value in coming together to shine a light on artistic diversity, along with participating galleries, theaters, shops and wineries. For more information about the tour, go to www.spokanearts.org.

“We want Saturate to transform Spokane into an inclusive city,” said Ellen Picken, program manager of Spokane Arts, which seeks to amplify Spokane as the center for arts and culture in the Inland Northwest.

“Growing up here and being part of the art scene and other social groups, I knew that there was something missing … and too much apathy to fix it,” Picken said. “We want to build a bridge where galleries actively seek out people with different stories and different voices, and where artists (of color) feel confident enough to enter that world.”

Seville’s concerns have been more about survival than confidence as an artist. He moved to Spokane five years ago with high hopes after experiencing a traumatizing mugging at gunpoint in his hometown of Memphis. But within weeks of arriving in Spokane, he became homeless for the first time. As a Navy veteran, he reached out to Health Care for Homeless Veterans. He credits the agency for helping him get back on his feet.

That is why Seville held his first benefit art show in 2015, “Artists for the Community,” to provide help to homeless vets. This year’s third anniversary benefit opens with an artists reception at the library from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday. More than two dozen of Seville’s colorful oil paintings will be for sale, or can be traded for bags of food, as will the works of artists Jay Cousins, Sage Caballero and Denise Roberson. All donated food and proceeds will go to HCHV, Meals on Wheels, Spokane County Veterans and Spokane YWCA.

Fresh food is a major issue for the homeless, Seville said. “Your health starts to fail when you can’t afford to buy and prepare fresh food,” Seville said.

Seville’s housing is stable for now, but he still struggles to put food on the table. To purchase art supplies, he regularly sells his plasma.

“If people knew what I went through to create all this,” Seville said, sweeping his hands around his bright, canvas-covered walls. “But I would still do it if nobody came (to my show). It’s my sanity.”

Two other African-American artists participating in this month’s Saturate are multimedia artist Robert Lloyd and dollmaker Roberson. Their works will be featured at Avenue West during February, kicking off with an early opening from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday.

Lloyd, a retired art professor from Eastern Washington University, will be showing a collection he calls “How I See It From the Edge.” According to his written explanation, his work attempts to “view the world from the vantage point of others, because sometimes we are so close to something we can’t really see it.”

Lloyd’s mixed media images, started from photographs he took of his travels around the world, are striking juxtapositions of traditional and modern. He distills and layers iconic cultural imagery, such as the kimonos and anime he observed in Japan. In one piece, a group of Japanese teen girls appear to be whispering about boys. Several middle-age women in traditional dress are huddling nearby.

“Stereotypes would say the older group of women couldn’t possibly be talking about sex, too,” Lloyd said. The viewer infers that they are.

Robertson, who has donated pieces to Seville’s show as well, celebrates the beauty and power of women with her dolls. Clad in batik and African fabrics, some made with human or llama hair, sticks and shells, the dolls are all affixed to pedestals to stand upright, like sculptures. They have hand-written story cards attached. Some are whimsical woodland protectors, others are healing shamans, and some of the most political are simply women. On one figure, Roberson uses a cowrie shell to suggest the vagina, with a hand covering the shell and the words “hands off.”

“I call that one ‘Power of the V,’ ” Roberson said. “Women and their bodies should be cherished and protected, not tortured and mistreated.”

Being a woman informs Roberson’s work more than the color of her skin. “I’m always aware that I’m black walking around in white society, but I’ve not viewed it as a problem because I am coming from a women’s point of view,” Roberson said. “Women don’t look at my color as much as what I have to say through my art.”

Artists Lloyd and Seville say the notion of paying attention to black artists only during Black History Month does offend them.

“I do art all year long, not just in February,” Lloyd said. “It’s insulting.”

“I’m not just black in February, I’m black every day,” Seville said.

Sandra Williams, editor and publisher of the African American newspaper the Black Lens, has expressed similar frustration with the lack of stories about people of color outside of Black History Month.

“But you have to start somewhere, and I applaud Spokane Arts for taking the steps to be proactive,” Williams said.

Williams plans to cover most of the Saturate events for the Black Lens. “I’m very excited … the list of artists is pretty amazing,” she said. “Maybe Saturate will be a catalyst for more things to happen throughout the year.”

This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Denise Roberson’s last name.

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