Portraits of the past: Myrtle Avenue show of black history

Portraits of the past: Myrtle Avenue show of black history
Ramona Candy

They are looking back at black history.

An annual celebration of black artwork is happening now along Myrtle Avenue, Fort Greene and Clinton Hill’s commercial corridor. This year’s Black Artstory, produced by the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership, focuses on black people reconnecting with their ancestry, with the theme “Sankofa: Go Back and Get it.” The woman behind the title said that she hopes that the Black Artstory series of Friday night events will spur young people to learn more about their backgrounds.

“Sankofa is important because most of us don’t know where we come from and it’s really needed for people in this generation as we can only go back so far,” said Ramona Candy, a visual artist and curator of the annual event.

Candy, who is of Caribbean background, says that tracing her roots often hits a brick wall — she was raised by her Grenadian single mother for most of her life, but she has unanswered questions about her paternal Haitian side. Her interest in learning more about her roots has increased over the years, she said.

“It’s specifically important to me because it tells you who are and who I am in this world,” said Candy.

For the festival, she painted a 20-piece collage of portraits, titled “Our History, Our Pride,” featuring unknown but influential black people. The paintings, which are on display at the eatery Locals, will have its opening reception on Feb. 16, featuring a spoken word piece from playwright Daniel Carlton.

The Black Artstory chooses a new theme each year, but its ideas are timeless, said another co-curator.

“It’s funny because even though the themes are different every year, no matter what the theme is, it’s always relevant,” said Suhaly Bautista-Carolina. “Sankofa could’ve been last year, because we should always try looking into our past into to help us inform our present and future. The themes are always spot on and the conversation is always timely.”

The festival’s final event on Feb. 23 will be the discussion “Currency, Current See,” about the history of financial systems built on black enslavement, and the roots of disparity in black finances.

In addition to the Friday night events, Black Artstory includes a month-long artwork, with businesses along Myrtle Avenue putting paintings and murals from local artists in their front windows.

The annual event not only gives people the opportunity to experience new artwork, but it introduces them to artists who live in their own neighborhood, said Bautista-Carolina.

“People will also get to learn who are the new and emerging artists of the Diaspora are,” she said. “There’s an artist I met last year, and I have two works of her — but I wouldn’t have known her otherwise.”

“Our History, Our Pride” [332 Myrtle Ave. between Washington Park and Carlton Avenue in Fort Greene]. Feb. 16 at 7 pm. Free.

“Currency, Current See” [62 Flushing Ave. between N. Oxford and Cumberland streets in Fort Greene]. Feb. 23 at 7pm. Free.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimon@cnglocal.com.
The influencers: Candy says her art depicts black people in history who are often forgotten.
Ramona Candy