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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Ideas of home: Black Spokane artists are featured in Gonzaga’s Urban Arts Center exhibit ‘Home: Imagining the Irrevocable’

Yes, Black History Month is a celebration, but it still pulls Black people to answer a gritty question about their livelihood beyond resilience: How does one build an identity, home, in a world that is unapologetically, and actively, anti-Black in policy, action and culture?

Gonzaga University’s Urban Arts Center’s exhibition, “Home: Imagining the Irrevocable,” provides answers to that question. Eight local Black artists display their interpretations that detail Black life and their ideas of home, especially the frictions between them, within the intersectionality of gender, class and beyond.

Co-curators Tracy Poindexter-Canton and Olivia Evans’ idea of “irrevocable home” originates in prolific writer and activist James Baldwin’s 1956 novel “Giovanni’s Room.” Baldwin writes, “Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.”

“So, what is that irrevocable condition? What does home mean, and what is the reality for home for those who come from descendants who are historically displaced, marginalized and othered?” Poindexter-Canton said.

Poindexter-Canton included her descendants in the exhibition, as well. Her grandfather’s 9-minute home video footage of their family of nine growing up on LaCrosse Avenue in 1960s and 1970s Spokane, giving older Black Americans a chance to answer how they created home in their circumstances.

“There’s one scene where my mother and her sisters are jumping around with wigs on, and, narrating the footage, she says, ‘I was super excited because we thought we were the Supremes,’ ” Poindexter-Canton said. “Just the humor and the playfulness and seeing them run around the Christmas tree and going to school, being out at Franklin Park playing baseball, is special.”

With Black people sharing the collective trauma within the Black experience, the works speak to one another. Bob Lloyd’s interpretations of home sit in the center of the gallery. “Home is the place where I can safely express myself creatively and philosophically,” his information reads. “Home is a place where I love and get love.”

In the digital image, his wife is lounging in the living room. Lloyd also has a photo of the family graveyard in his backyard, a comfort of family that has passed on.

To the right of Lloyd’s space is artist and designer Art Jacob’s “A Child’s Vision,” a portrait acting as a freeze frame of a concerned young Black girl. She dons a confused but observant look of her surroundings with Howard University as the backdrop.

She is beginning to understand the Black life that Lloyd has examined and will leave behind in death. “We had to get a feel of what felt right and where,” Poindexter-Canton said. “Just certain pieces worked well with each other, complemented each other.”

For people who identify as mixed race or biracial, that question of building identity cannot be answered in a few simple words. Racism, and other irrevocable effects of colonialism, manifest differently. Identifying home becomes a maze with multiple levels and one exit.

Acting as co-curator with Poindexter-Canton, Evans, who is Italian, Black and a descendant of the Blackfoot Tribe, ensured that the shared colonial trauma of genocide and slavery were fused together in her artwork.

“With all work that I try to signify the meshing of all the cultures in a way, the way (my works) are hung is thinking of the rawness of history in general with people of color,” she said. “It really sticks with me, and, in all work I make, it’s part of who I am. I have to lift up the Indigenous and Black communities.”

Evans’ work is an assessment of generational trauma and the fear that her daughter and newborn son will be survivors of the same issues. She called the racial reckoning of summer “a frightening moment,” but returning to nature for comfort and escape kept her grounded.

The last photo of Evans’ collection is of her and her daughter standing in Lake Sullivan, a symbol of hope and optimism as the two look toward the open river.

Throughout Black History Month, the exhibition will be a multipurpose event space for artists and other community members. The following Wednesday, Gonzaga professor Jessica Maucione will discuss the real-life qualities of “Home,” a novel by Nobel Peace Prize winner and writer Toni Morrison.

Maucione’s coursework repurposes Morrison’s collection, which centers on Black characters, as a way to discuss the historical and current Black experience. Maucione believes “Home” highlights the “complicated idea of home for Black Americans.”

“Morrison just does so much by revaluing a wide variety of complex Black experiences,” Maucione said. “She just captures so much truth about different spaces in moments of America, so ‘Home’ is a novel that Tracy and I will be discussing since she’s done some art in response of the novel.”

Poet Stephen Pitters, whose work dissects how COVID-19 lockdown helped him reassess his life, will host poetry readings from his seasonal collections “Virus,” “Restoration” and “Aftermath” on Wednesday.

“I started writing in half decades from 15 to 20, and, now that I’m older, I can assess everything that I can think of in that space and time,” Pitters said. “This opens our mind and as we create our stories. We’ve got so many of them to work with.”