Art gallery opens 3 exhibitions Thursday

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The Sumter County Gallery of Art will present exhibitions by three artists with very different perspectives on what it means to be a visual artist in the South and how these differences are expressed through their imagery. Andrew Blanchard's Saturday Night, Sunday Morning; Cedric Umoja's That Old Black Gospel; and Dogon Krigga's Afroglyph will open with a reception from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday and remain on exhibit through April 19.

Blanchard, primarily a printmaker, is perhaps best known for "taking familiar, stereotypical signifiers of rural roads and the small-town South and flattening them into one another through the process of printmaking. Somehow, through this juxtaposition, they manage to avoid one-dimensionality. The Sumter exhibition will also include three-dimensional 'totems' - assemblages of identifiably Southern artifacts and signifiers."

A Louisiana native raised on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Blanchard traveled to Paris following the receipt of his bachelor of arts degree from the University of Southern Mississippi. In France, he studied with master lithography printer Frederic Possot, then earned his master of fine arts degree from the University of Mississippi.

Now an associate professor of Studio Art at Converse College, Blanchard continues to have his work in prestigious, permanent collections, including those of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans and the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson. His art is also featured in numerous publications, among them Ecotone, Electric Dirt, Printmakers Today, New American Paintings, the International Painting Annual (nos. 4 and 7) and the Oxford American, which in 2012 named him among the New Superstars of Southern Art.

Blanchard will give an artist talk at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, during the reception.

Umoja was born in California and moved to South Carolina after high school. Citing his major influences as hip-hop and comic books, Umoja incorporates in his work elements of graffiti, Neo-Expressionism, Afro-Surrealism, comic sequential art, Japanese manga and Afrofuturism, all of which played roles in his artistic development.

Developing his style under the instruction of Tony Cacalano, Umoja also cites as influences Dondi White, Sam Kieth, Max Beckmann, Amedeo Modigliani, Ernie Barnes, Sun Ra and Hans Hoffman.

Umoja has been included in several important solo and group exhibitions including "Libation," City Gallery, Charleston, (which he curated); "We Bleed Too!" Goodall Gallery, Columbia College; "MNI WICONI" Tangent Gallery, Detroit; "Beyonder" FAB gallery, South Carolina State University; and others. Umoja is also a community activist and street artist who has been involved in several public art projects including "23 Million Miles," Millwood Avenue Corridor, Columbia, and "Duality," Mission District, San Francisco.

Umoja writes in his artist statement: "'That Old Black Gospel' reflects particular truths expressed and experienced by the black diaspora around the world. These truths experienced gives birth to ritual and how it's engaged in the most unsuspecting moments in the lives of a people, who have endured immeasurable amounts of trauma. Yet, throughout it all, a thirst to be healed is what's longed for the most in spite of being subjected to a dogmatic and oppressive perspective used to colonize."

Self-taught artist Krigga works in digital and cut-and-paste collage. "He originally set out to provide unique designs for independent businesses and recording artists by transmuting sound into an image that invokes a sense of wonder and reflection on the human cosmic, aboriginal and omni-dimensional nature. The visionary aspect of Krigga's creations are an amalgamation of culture and esoteric references through Afrofuturism."

He states his intent as "to raise black vibrations through visual art," and he has exhibited extensively in Columbia.

"My aesthetic comes from Afrofuturism, but the way I use symbolism is like an alchemist. ... I tried art school for a semester and a half and learned some theory, but I felt like they were trying to teach juice, and I had juice already. There's definitely a lot of humor in my work. Life can be serious, but we have to take a step back, laugh and marvel at how intricate yet how simple the universe can be."

Krigga continues, " So much of black history is the chronicling of suffering. I'm trying to get back to a place where blackness isn't under attack but is thriving. Our gifts and abilities and how we interact with each other are acts of rebellion and revolution. We are masters of this domain but living a reality where that can be forgotten, so we address this with Afrofuturism to remind us. I'm attempting to liberate people mentally by reminding them who they are outside of what society tells them they are."

Cedric Umoja and Dogon Krigga will be in conversation with SCGA Curator Cole Miller at a later date in March.

SCGA Executive Director Karen Watson credits community partners for the gallery's continuing ability to present intriguing exhibitions by both established and up-and-coming artists.

Partners for these three exhibitions are SAFE Federal Credit Union, the Glenmore and May Sharp Charitable Trust and Dr. DeAnne and Elielson Messias. Flowers are courtesy of Julie Jameson, Azalea Garden Club and the Council of Garden Clubs of Sumter.

Sumter County Gallery of Art, 200 Hassel St., will present works by artist Andrew Blanchard, Cedric Umoja and Dogon Krigga Thursday through April 19. The opening reception, which includes an artist talk by Blanchard, will be held Thursday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Admission is open to the public with a $5 donation for non-members of the SCGA, free to members. Call (803) 775-0543 for more information.