Local Austin exhibit explores balance between American dream, African-American experience


Courtesy of Art84

‘Work in Progress’ was unveiled on Aug. 28 and will run until Dec. 31. The gallery is located at 84 Waller.

Cornelius Carter is hopeful for the “work in progress” when it comes to the American Dream and the experience of the African-American.

“Work in Progress” is Carter’s virtual art exhibit currently displayed at Art84. The virtual exhibit opened Aug. 28, corresponding with the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Carter showcases his faith in the American Dream for equality juxtaposed with the ongoing struggle African-Americans have faced.

Carter’s exhibit takes full advantage of its virtual setting. Each painting is accompanied by videos or audio that allow the audience to fully immerse themselves in the experience of an art exhibit while in their own homes. The exhibit is intimate and Carter’s work is wonderful. 

It captures the emotion and grief of scenes of terrible struggle, such as slavery and the death of MLK Jr. Carter uses browns and dark reds to capture the grit of these scenes. It also showcases glory with portraits of figures such as Bob Marley, Malcolm X and Barack Obama painted in softer colors such as blues, greens and yellow.

“Slave Auction” is a piece inspired by Jean-Léon Gérôme’s 1884 painting of a Greek slave market. In Carter’s painting, a nude woman poses in front of the men who seek to buy her. Carter conveys the dehumanization and objectification of those sold into slavery, a piece powerful enough to make viewers feel uncomfortable. 

The concluding work, “Lady Liberty,” is eye-catching with its controversy and beauty. In the piece, Lady Liberty breastfeeds two children while another child sits by her feet, reading a book.

“I wanted to make a painting that was poetic and controversial at the same time,” Carter says in a video featured in the exhibit. “[Lady Liberty] wants to feed us equally from the beginning. She also gives us freedom, including the responsibility to learn, educate ourselves and make our way in the world.”

Lady Liberty also encapsulates Carter’s faith in the American Dream. 

Carter’s work represents hope that equality is something that we can achieve in this country, even if we have failed to do so in the past. His paintings showcase the horrible history African-Americans have faced as well as the many achievements and glory.

Art is a great medium to talk about social issues like race and the experience of Black Americans. With careful thought in every brushstroke, Carter captures the mood of scenes he paints with brilliant colors and facial expressions. 

Check out “Work in Progress,” here through Dec. 31.