Inaugural ‘Black Art Houston’ Celebration Takes Place City-Wide This Weekend

Inaugural ‘Black Art Houston’ Celebration Takes Place City-Wide This Weekend

'Airborne Double' by Black Art Houston artist Derek Fordjour

IN 2021, WHEN Anita Bateman arrived in Houston as the new Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, she welcomed the opportunity to discover her potential as a curator.


At the time — in the midst of a pandemic that refused to disappear, and global protests led by the Black Lives Matter movement — the cultural landscape of Houston was changing, as institutions across the country began to seriously rethink how the arts could be presented to a more diverse public. Coming in as a “blank slate,” though well-armed with a Ph.D. in Art History and Visual Culture, Bateman was relieved to find herself among colleagues willing to address the tropes and social dynamics that impede collaboration between museums and initiatives to reach broader audiences.

Bateman (photo by Asaaf Hinden)

Tschabalala Self's 'Sprewell'

“What if we broke down those walls that kept us separate and do something on a massive scale to show that we have a common interest?” says Bateman. “That’s what Black Art Houston is.”

Masterminded by Bateman and realized as a collaboration between the MFAH and an impressive range of community partners, including the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, the Holocaust Museum Houston, and the Community Artists’ Collective, the inaugural Black Art Houston is a sprawling, citywide celebration of contemporary Black art and culture, featuring museum and gallery exhibitions, public programming, and open artist studios. The events — and there are several — take place Feb. 17-19, and a detailed schedule is available online.

A few of the many exhibitions on view during the weekend include the MFAH’s Multiplicity: Blackness in Contemporary American Collage, curated by Bateman; Here and Now: Cultural Expressions at the Community Artists’ Collective; and Microcosm by NEGRASSO at ART IS BOND gallery. Public programming includes the Ninth Annual Citywide African American History Parade & Symposium on Feb. 17 with former principal dancer of the Houston Ballet Lauren Anderson as grand marshal; and a Sunday morning meditation session with the Black Man Project and Black Woman Project. Some of the Houston artists hosting open studios include Christopher Paul, Anthony Suber, Tay Butler and Randy WROSIV.

The idea for Black Art Houston was sparked by Bateman’s first MFAH curatorial assignment to oversee the programming for Afro-Atlantic Histories, an expansive and multilayered exploration of the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade as seen through the eyes of artists from around the world. The exhibit opened in Oct. 2021, while the CAMH had The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse on view, and Bateman recognized the shows were in conversation with each other, but the two institutions had yet to collaborate. She proposed a program in which Houston-based installation and performance artist Viktor Givens guided a procession of museum visitors from the grounds of the CAMH and into the MFAH’s exhibition. The event was a success, and both institutions made it clear they were open to hearing new ideas on how to connect with visitors and speak to the times we’re living in.

“We have our mainstay blockbusters, but then we have more experimental shows, which in a lot of ways, is what the Kehinde Wiley exhibit is,” says Bateman, referring to Wiley’s monumental An Archaeology of Silence, another popular show she curated and that is currently on view at the MFAH. “There are people who said they never thought to come to MFAH who are now coming because of the roster of exhibitions we are planning.”

Born and raised in Memphis, Bateman began her academic career as a biology major at Williams College, with every intention of becoming an anesthesiologist. She took an art history class to balance out the time she had to spend in the lab, and after a fateful field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, fell in love with art history. She switched her major and went on to earn a Bachelor’s in Art History, and a Master’s degree in Modern and Contemporary African Art of the African Diaspora and the aforementioned Ph.D. in Art History and Visual Culture from Duke University. Maybe it’s a Southern thing, but Bateman is no staid academic and remains fully committed to amplifying local artists’ voices and celebrating the spaces where they live, work and show.“Houston allowed me a lot of free time to discover who I was as a curator,” says Bateman. “I like talking to people about their interests and really understanding how it is that I can utilize my resources, not only my position, but my own energy to help someone out.”

Art + Entertainment
With Expertise in Blondes, Extensions and More, the Janelle Alexis Team Is a Go-To Salon

YOU CAN'T LIMIT Janelle to one title – Hairdresser. Her career and business has been established and built on a strong foundation. Using her two business degrees + one more in-process, this enables Janelle and the team to deliver not only a customer-focused experience, but a foundationally solid business. There is much more than meets the eye, and in sharing a little bit about Janelle, she was not only an international hair extension educator for over 14 years, but brings extensive expertise to blondes. She rounds this out with her previously launched namesake cosmetic line, which is a perfect complement to her belief that “Beauty is our Business”.

Keep ReadingShow less

AS WE PRODUCE our second annual “Cool 100” list, we’re reminded of our thoughts as we debuted this feature last year. We acknowledged that deciding who and what is cool is not only a moving target but also entirely subjective. And that attempting to “rank” the coolest people in Houston is a fool’s errand, one that will leave us immediately open to criticism. “You think she is cooler than him? You included this person?! You left off that one!?"

Keep ReadingShow less
People + Places

The gallerist's beloved dog Tuta, Anya Tish, and artist Adela Andea with Anya

LAST THURSDAY, DAWN Ohmer, gallery director of Anya Tish Gallery, called to tell me Anya died on June 12 in her hometown of Kraków, Poland. It was a tearful call, the kind of call I am resigned to receiving more often as I get older. For many of us in Houston’s art community — gallery owners, artists, collectors, and arts writers — the news was sudden and unexpected. Death is a look away from rationality, and it is hard to imagine someone you cared for and who cared about you no longer being present physically, in the flesh, in the here and now.

Keep ReadingShow less
Art + Entertainment