The show is on display through Aug. 20 at the WaterFire Arts Center at 475 Valley St. in Providence. There’s an opening reception Thursday, July 13, 6-8 p.m. that’s open to the public. Click here for more details.

One of the first things you see when you walk into the WaterFire Arts Center’s gigantic main gallery is a collection of tapestries by Lilly Manycolors. A man and woman hold hands and are surrounded by symbols, plants and animals. Joel Rosario Tapia is one of the curators of the show.

“It's really interesting because there's embroidery, there's sewing, and there's all kinds of integration into the pieces that isn't just paint,” Tapia said. “And it isn't just the canvas. And it isn't just those other elements that are added to it. It's all happening together.”

The exhibition is called “Curating Commemoration: /Remedy.” Cultural heritage is an ongoing theme in the “Remedy” half of the biennial. I asked Tapia how he selected the artists.

“I specifically chose these individuals for this, because of the fact that they've been in the Providence community, authentically identifying themselves and representing themselves through their practices and in their art as individuals representing communities,” he said. “We think of ourselves so much as individuals in society. But we're also part of larger communities. We're part of larger demographics. And we all form part of larger movements.”

In the “Poiesis” half of the show, you’ll see a couple of pieces by people you may recognize, like AS220 founder Umberto Crenca and Big Nazo’s Ermino Pinque. But curator Melaine Ferdinand King wanted works from a wider variety of artists.

“There are a lot of people who feel like some of the institutions in Providence don't welcome all artists, don't consider all art ‘good art,’ and cast a certain value system that they feel excluded from,” King said. “And so I'm hoping to reset the ways that we think about what art deserves to be in a gallery space, what artists we actually promote, and the stories that we tell about what the outcome of artistic process and production is. And maybe to think a little bit more about that storytelling process, and a bit more about process over end product.”

King reached out to street artists using flyers and social media – and she wanted to move beyond the idea that street art just includes graffiti.

“They all coalesce around some of the major themes: politics and public space, reutilization of materials, remixing, improvising, thinking on community, about making a statement to making a claim for yourself, and then ultimately, just a love of the area that you come from,” she said.

Two mannequins stand in the middle of the gallery, covered in a patchwork of denim clothing made by artist Dorian Epps.

“He works with the idea of basketball and street culture, thinking about the ways that basketball as a sport and also as a social activity has connected a number of different people specifically as an American pastime,” King said. “He also works with sustainability projects, and so all of his materials are recycled, up-cycled, re-utilized and revitalized in order to bring fashion to life.

The female mannequin is wearing a skirt made completely from the pockets of jeans. The male mannequin’s clothing is made from jeans and canvas cut in a seemingly random method, but then re-sewn together.

“It definitely blurs the line between the fashion of every day and also what deserves to be in a gallery, and what may or may not have social access to it,” King said.

While most of the walls of the WaterFire Arts Center are gray, one section looks haphazardly painted beige with patches of white. It features nine squares of different material hung on the wall: there’s gray cloth, blue paint and one piece of chipped drywall with an electrical socket. As I walked by, an artist who goes by “Prophet” was putting the final touches on the installation, carefully arranging bits of refuse in front of the beige wall. I told him it looked to me like a wall that hadn’t been taken care of so well.

“It's people that haven't been taken care of so well,” he said. “It's a lot of slumlord conditions in the building I live in, specifically my walls. It's exactly this color. It looks just like this. This trash is from my street. And I'm orienting it the exact way I found it. I took pictures of every piece of trash and I'm arranging it the way it was on the street. This is all based off of reality. No exaggeration.”

In the program notes, Melaine Ferdinand King says that “Poiesis” is an invitation to commemorate the world around us, treasure the transient and see the potential for beauty and creativity in even the most mundane spaces.

Tapia says he sees the “Remedy” portion of the show as just that – a way to confront and remedy ongoing experiences of race-implicit bias, white supremacy, and economic and environmental discrimination. 

“It can be an example of how to get over that by appreciating the culture that we all bring to the table,” Tapia said. “The frequencies, the likenesses that we find in each other allow us to appreciate each other and be more human, rather than demonizing and, you know, turning it all into rhetoric, and degrading other human beings. If we can have conversations, we can share our culture. This is how the United States of America came to be. So this is how I feel that remedy can be gotten, by us having these conversations and sharing in creating together and then sharing the ownership of that, because that's essentially what the United States of America is – an experiment of creation and culture. So it's an art.”

A collection of photographs by Jeny Luna Hernandez Watson is near the center of the gallery. They’re pictures of some of the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. The largest one shows young protestors on the steps of the Rhode Island Statehouse. They’re holding signs, but many of them are also looking down at their phones.

“Everyone's distracted, but everyone's present. And it says ‘fix our future.’ And it says ‘students against bigotry,’” Tapia said. “And it's so many faces from so many different ethnicities, and just different stories and experiences coming together at the Statehouse to demonstrate on what they believe is important.”

About a dozen people were working on the final touches of the installation while I was there. Jonny Skye is one of the board members for the Providence Biennial.

“Visual Art often breaks through this idea of all the words. And it gives us an opportunity to see, instead of get caught in those tropes, in those parables,” he said. “I think that both shows really sit together in a celebration of humanity and voice and opportunity in the city of Providence.”

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