Donna Jackson, artist and curator of DMJStudio, is introducing an art exhibition at the Scarab Club meant to showcase Detroit’s emerging and established Black artists. She was inspired by W.E.B. Du Bois and his series of essays, The Souls of Black Folk:
“One ever feels his twoness – an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
“But what of black women? … I most sincerely doubt if any other race of women could have brought its fineness up through so devilish a fire … To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships”
While rereading this passage during the pandemic, the idea for the art showcase came to mind. Jackson knew that art, culture and design can invoke change. “This time it hit differently,” she says. “We can’t keep this pattern going. My parents had this pattern, their parents had this pattern. Is this the moment when things truly change?”
After the untimely death of George Floyd, she noticed how many major corporations were standing in solidarity with Black people, creating a narrative for them. Jackson felt it was important for Black artists to control their own narrative. She says, “It’s important that that voice is coming from someone who is Black and that has experienced this before.”
Jackson began working on her proposal while leveraging her network of people in the art world. She got it into the hands of the Scarab Club who was simultaneously looking to expand their reach in the African American community.
Scarab Club board member David Rudolph says, “It was important for the board to look at our past in order to make sure we are moving in a positive way with race, diversity and equity. The Scarab Club is a 111-year-old art institution with an exclusive past.”
Souls of Black Folk: Bearing Our Truths is the first African American show at the Scarab Club. The artists showcased in the exhibition include Sabrina Nelson, Asia Hamilton, Carl Wilson, Phillip Simpson, Carole Morisseau, Desiree Kelly, Cydney Camp, Mandisa Smith, Monica Brown, Rachel E. Thomas, Charles Miller, Rita Dickerson, Ricky Weaver, Sydney James, Olivia Guterson, and others.
While commissioning the artists, Jackson asked them to tap into themselves. She says, “I wanted them to feel their own soul and put that out there.” When viewing the artwork, Jackson wants Black people to feel the complexity of what we are.
She says, “Yes we struggle, yes we are dealing with violence, but there is also a piece showing us loving each other. There is a piece that shows the beauty of our bodies. There are pieces that honor our day-to-day life as humans – the joy we get as Black people. I want them to feel I am a whole human; I am not just a Black person that struggles. I am a Black person that is all these things.”
Jackson says her purpose is to build platforms for others to be seen. She says, “Let’s work to not repeat but to change.” In the meantime, Rudolph says, “The doors to the church are open. We want to see and have more artists of color. We are an open community.”
The Souls of Black Folk is open now at the Scarab Club until March 6.