5 Black Artists Bringing Excellence to the KC Art Scene

By: Emma Sauer

Kansas City has more to offer than barbecue and sports teams. This is a thriving city teeming with talent, innovation, and excellence, and the city owes much of that to the Black community. From the American Jazz Museum to the AAAC (African American Arts Collective), Black artists have an established presence in Kansas City. Here’s a list (in no particular order) of five Black creators who make incredible art.

Meeks Me Smile Studio

@meeksmesmilestudio Instagram

Shawanna Meeks founded Meeks Me Smile to offer unique, and stylish handbags. One night while getting dressed for a night out with her friends, she realized she didn’t have the right handbag to match her fun night. So, she made her own. The shop offers small accessories, wallets,  clutch bags, totes, handbags, and more–all with cute and colorful prints. Considering these bags are all handmade, they’re marked at a remarkably affordable price. Costs range from $15 to $155 (not including shipping). Meeks Me Smile Studio also dabbles in furniture design and acrylic paintings.

Sonia Sanchez

Source: Creative Commons, John Mathew Smith, https://www.flickr.com/people/36277035@N06

Sonia Sanchez is a poet, playwright, author, and activist. A major influence in the Black arts movement, she’s received both the Robert Frost Medal for distinguished lifetime service to American poetry and the Langston Hughes Poetry Award. Her poetry is known for its mixing of musical elements and traditional poetry. Through her poems she celebrates the art of Black English. Sonia Sanchez’s 16 books have moved readers since her first collection of poems, Homecoming, in 1969. Not much of her poetry is free to read online, but you can check out her books at your local library or purchase them.

Arie Monroe

“Block and Delete”, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

If you like comics or pop art, you’ll love Arie Monroe’s colorful and expressive art. Her comic Tornado Alley, starring Mainasha and her cat Socks, is a wacky take on the Wizard of Oz, but it’s also been a way for Monroe to to communicate her struggles as a black woman, according to her caption statement on “Block and Delete”, a piece currently on display in the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. She also specializes in caricature art. On Redbubble, she has merch available featuring caricatures, the Tornado Alley crew, and other illustrations.

Whitney Manney

@WhitneyManney Instagram

Whitney Manney is both a fashion designer and her independent ethical fashion label of the same name. WM’s clothes are bold, taking inspiration from street art and urban culture. Whitney Manney aims to make clothes that are more than clothes; they make ready-to-wear wearable art. As for the artist herself, she’s showcased her work at over a dozen galleries and runway shows, including the UMKC Gallery of Art. She’s also done teaching partnerships with the HALO foundation (a foundation dedicated to helping homeless KC youth), and other schools around the area.

NedRa Bonds

Image Source: Connie Fiorella Fitzpatrick, Creative Commons

NedRa Bonds is an activist, quilt artist, and retired teacher in Kansas City, Kansas. Her vibrant, collage-like quilts often make strong statements about the social issues she’s passionate about. Her artwork has been directly inspired by issues of human rights, social justice, race, and environmentalism, to name a few. Bonds also often incorporates elements of satire and political commentary into her art, echoing her principles as an activist. She’s made over 100 quilts since 1989, many that have been shown at different art shows and exhibits in KC. If you’ve spent some time at the Women’s Center, her art may look familiar: for the Women’s Center’s 40th anniversary, she led the creation of our Women’s Equity Quilt!

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Women’s History Month: Sonie Ruffin

By Christina Terrell

My first encounter with Sonié Joi Thompson-Ruffin was at the Women’s Center 2019 “Persistent Muse: Women, Art and Activism” event. For this event the Women’s Center partnered with the Inter-Urban Art-House where a panel of influential Women, like Ruffin, spoke about how their artwork advocates for Women’s rights and issues.

During the panel event I found that Sonié’s presentation really spoke to me personally. She embodied a very vibrant and genuine personality. Sonié was not just lecturing and telling us about her background and career but she was putting emotion, humor while sharing a story with the audience that really connected all she has done for women’s activism too her audience.

Another aspect that drew me to Sonie’s story was that along with the fact that she is a renowned contemporary fabric artist, author, lecturer and independent curator, she has also conducted workshops and lectures on African-American quilting.

Ruffin’s extraordinary textile work has been displayed in numerous museums, art exhibits and galleries internationally. However, one place that her quilts have been displayed that really hits home for me would have to be that her very first art exhibit was displayed right here in Kansas City and more importantly, at UMKC African American Culture House .

Sonié has been a-part of many influential events, but to imagine that to this day she loves to come back to where her activism journey all started. She is honored every time she comes to educate and advocate here at UMKC and share her story with young women like me. She has inspired myself and others to explore their artistic side and I commend her because you never know where or when your women’s activism journey will start.

Wonder Women: SHEroes, Freedom Fighters, and Women Who Kick Butt!

By Arzie Umali

untitledCurrently on display at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center is the exhibit Wonder Women: SHEroes, Freedom Fighters, and Women Who Kick Butt! Despite its title, the exhibit is not about comic books or video games. Nor does it feature provocatively posed damsels wielding weapons. This Wonder Women exhibit is about real life women who are superheroines of our art community doing what they do best: seeking truth and justice through the work that they create, driven by their passions and their creative spirit.

The Superheroines of this exhibit are local artists Michelle Beasley, Nedra Bonds, Nicole Emanuel, Ritchie Kaye, Eugenia Ortiz, and Sonie Ruffin. Each of the artists in this exhibit on her own is a wonder woman. They are activists, advocates, and change makers in the community who create art and imagery that evoke the strength, courage, and resilience of the empowered woman. Michelle Beasley’s works are each autobiographical, revealing her multifaceted life and a reality shared by so many women. Nedra Bonds’ textiles are portraits and portrayals of women past and present who represent the diverse history and struggles of women. Nicole Emanuel’s works take opposing views of wonder women: the superficial, fictionalized women depicted in her comic- book- covered, six-foot “Wonder Bra” versus the more natural, realist rendering of two women posed on opposite end of a large canvas. Ritchie Kaye’s larger than life photo of four properly posed women invites us to wonder about the varied lives of women, where what one see’s on the surface may not always be what rests below the surface.  Eugenia Ortiz’s works in sculpture and on canvas are rich with color and heavy with texture evoking the emotions of conflict, healing, and transformation. And Sonie Ruffin’s textiles tell stories of the African American experience and remind us of the multicultural world we live in and a past we shouldn’t forget.

Together the works in this exhibit create a conversation about women. The viewer is asked to join the conversation and consider the unique and diverse lives of all women, the experiences that they have, and the actions that they take that make them true wonder women.

A reception will be held at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center on First Friday, March 7, 4:30 – 6:00 p.m. and will include a brief talk by each artists. The reception is free and open to all; however, registration is requested at https://wonderwomenartistreception.eventbrite.com. Wonder Women is sponsored by the UMKC Women’s Center’s Her Art Project. The mission of the project is to support the creative achievements of local women artists and advance gender equity in the arts. To learn more about the Her Art Project please visit www.umkc.edu/womenc/herart or like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/herartproject.