by LENNY KOUPAL, CSU Communications Coordinator
If you merely walk through a Greg Wilkins art exhibit, you are missing the serendipity. To fully appreciate his vision and multifaceted creative magic, you must experience it up close for detail and from a distance for perspective.
“I think the average person just looks at a basic idea of an image, but to really look and to look clearly you’re able to see so much more,” Wilkins said.
Wilkins’ 19-piece exhibit, Black Lives Matter: Teach Your Children Well, will be on display in the Centennial Student Union Art Gallery through Friday, Aug. 13. The gallery is open during CSU building hours.
Associate Director for Student Activities and a member of the CSU staff for the past 13 years, Wilkins is an accomplished mixed-media artist with a regional award-winning reputation. Funded by a Minnesota Creative Support for Individuals Grant in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, the message behind his exhibit reaches back to his own childhood.
“I come from a multiethnic, multinational family,” Wilkins said. “I have an African American brother and Asian brother and Asian sister. And, I’m a child from the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, who grew up in Chicago and moved to Florida during the height of desegregation.
“We were the only family of color in our church and our neighborhood,” he continued. “So, I had a very rude awakening when I was nine years old with regards to those issues. It has been part of my life ever since.”
‘I think the average person looks at a show and they just look at a basic idea of an image. But to really look and to look clearly, you’re able to see so much more. A lot like the people in our lives, right?‘GREG WILKINS
Wilkins said the Black Lives Matter hashtag started after Trayvon Martin was murdered just a couple towns over from where Wilkins grew up.
“It was a transcending moment for me. And every time I get a phone call from my own family, I’m always concerned that is it that my little brother was killed or his children.” Wilkins said. “So it’s something that’s very pressing in my mind.”
In some ways, Wilkins and his art had a place in the Black Lives Matter movement starting with an art piece he created in 1994.
“It’s interesting, the hashtag Black Lives Matter – I actually used it,” he recalled. “There’s only one piece here that was not part of the 2021 creations, and that’s Black Lives Matter: AIDS. I actually made that in 1994. So when the hashtag came out I was like ‘I know that title.’ Well, I was ahead by almost 30 years. Who knew, right? So that was a fun eureka moment.”
The Black Lives Matter message shared within Wilkins’ art reached back to the days of slavery through the Jim Crow era right up to events making today’s headlines.
“This work is a representation of a variety of things that have happened. Everything from historically with sharecroppers back in the day, slavery and the lynching of peoples to the present day, ” he said. “The works continue with everything from the prison system to Black Lives Matter driving while black.”
Inspiration for one of the most striking pieces, Black Lives Matter: Essential Worker, came while Wilkins had follow-up surgery as the result of a 2017 auto accident. The resulting mixed-media artwork is created around floor mops. As one steps back from the piece the emerging face of a Black worker tells a COVID tale.
“I asked the medical team if they would be willing to give me some of their mops. So the piece was created during COVID to celebrate the women and men, mostly women, who oftentimes are the people of color cleaning hospitals,” Wilkins said.
Intricate stitching to create accents and highlights is another trademark of Wilkins’ commitment to detail. In the piece, Black Lives Matter: Driving While Black, Wilkins uses stitching to represent the traditional scarification practiced by some Somali cultures.
Stitching adds to the symbolism in a disturbing piece entitled Picnic that shows the silhouette of a lynching against a checkered tablecloth.
“I think most people just see the stark image from far away. If you really come close, you’ll see the hands and a sash coming off of the image,” Wilkins explained. He used a rope stitch to accent the rope of the hangman’s noose.
“While it’s a very sad and awful thing that happened, I circled the silhouette image with a blanket stitch because I’m also trying to create comfort in this person’s last moment,” he added.
Among the most historic pieces in the exhibit, Black Lives Matter: Stolen Innocence, provides a long list of Blacks killed by police since 1968.
“The first person that was killed in this piece is Henry Dumas and he was also a poet,” Wilkins said.
It’s that whole person that is reflected within the intricacies of Wilkins’ work and the narratives that go along with each piece.
“I think the average person looks at a show and they just look at a basic idea of an image. But to really look and to look clearly, you’re able to see so much more,” Wilkins said. “A lot like the people in our lives, right? When you see or hear a concept of a person, you have this basic idea. But you know people are complex. There’s so much more that you don’t see below the surface, right? And that’s what I want my pieces, as an artist, to also do.”
As part of the exhibit, a YouTube video was created that features Wilkins explaining in greater detail each of the 19 pieces of art.
View similar KEYC News Story on Wilkins’ exhibit.