Newark high school winner of Congressional Art Competition will have work displayed in U.S. Capitol

art cardCongressman Donald M. Payne, Jr. held an awards reception Monday afternoon at the Newark Museum to recognize the winners of the 2016 Congressional Art Competition for New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District.

The overall winner out of 60 pieces of art submitted from 16 high schools in New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District was Newark’s own Lawrence Armour, of Arts High School.

“I am always impressed by the creative pieces our local students submit and look forwarding to sharing them with our community and the entire country,” said Payne, Jr., according to a statement. “This year was no exception.”


Congressmen Donald Payne, Jr. pictured with art contest winner and Arts High School student

Congressman Donald Payne, Jr. pictured with art contest winner and Arts High School student

The annual nationwide contest is sponsored by the Congressional Institute in order for members of the U.S. Congress to recognize and encourage the artistic talent of their constituents. Since the Congressional Art Competition began in 1982, over 650,000 high school students have participated.

Armour’s winning submission, entitled “Digital Arts,” will be displayed for one year at the U.S. Capitol for Members of Congress, staff, and visitors to see. In June, Armour will have the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. to participate in a national ceremony with other winners from around the country.

The second- and third-place winners in the district were Shawna Reid, from Jersey City Arts High School, for her submission, “Paralysis,” and Jaleel Kerr, from East Orange Campus High School, for his submission, “Seven Deadly Sins.”

Award reception images via Flickr.

Newark Arts Photo Documentary Project creates window into the scope of the city’s art scene

art cardMany artists have called the city of Newark home, from literary giant Amiri Baraka to visual artist Jerry Gant. Newark is a city rooted in art, and the influx of programs like Newark Open Doors, and the increasing availability of galleries and art spaces, have contributed to what feels like a revival of art in the city.

Even with these developments, a quick Google search of “Artists in Newark, New Jersey” will only lead to a flurry of articles about gentrification and a list of gallery spaces, instead of a conclusive list of who and what to look out for in the Newark art scene.

Artist Colleen Gutwein is changing that with The Newark Arts Photo Documentary Project. Although Gutwein’s project focuses primarily on visual artists, she has built a digital Rolodex of the city’s finest photographers, painters, sculptors and much more.

“I realized that this community is what I’m part of, and this is what I should be focusing on, and that’s what makes a good documentary,” said Gutwein of the project.

Jerry Gant

Artist Jerry Gang, photographed by Colleen Gutwein

The project features portraits of various Newark artists in their studios or landmarks around the city. According to the project description on her website, Gutwein hopes the documentary project will create a window for the world to view the scope of the Newark art scene now, as well as to preserve the culture for future generations to look back on.

Although the term “documentary” immediately connotes moving images and historical undertakings, the intimate images that Gutwein captures help viewers visualize art in Newark today, by looking at those who create it. Instead of sound and text, Gutwein relies solely on the image to capture this moment in Newark’s art history.

Gutwein, who also has worked as a documentary photographer in Cambodia, is very much part of the community that she is currently documenting. The photographer is an artist-in-residence at Newark’s Index Art Gallery, and most recently curated last year’s Forum in Form exhibition.

When asked how the project came about, Gutwein recounted a conversation with Index co-founder, Dave Smith. “You’re always working on documentaries all over the place, you should document what’s going on here, in Newark,” Gutwein recalled Smith saying.

Through a grant from the Puffin Foundation, Gutwein started the project, and three years and almost 70 artists later, The Newark Arts Photo Documentary Project is still growing. All the images featured in Gutwein’s project are shot with an antique 1940’s Jem Jr 120 box camera, manufactured by J.E. Mergott Co. in Newark.

“I was thinking, I’m a photographer shooting artists in Newark, how do I make this project more Newark-centric? And I found these cameras on eBay, and I thought, ‘This is perfect.'”

Although Gutwein’s project is mainly visual, the finished work, which will culminate in a book and an exhibition, will feature some text about the artist’s relationship to the city. Gutwein also uses the featured artists as referrals for other artists in Newark who she can feature in the documentary.

“It’s a community project — it’s not just about me — and I’ve learned so much about my community by doing this. There’s such a huge list of artists in the city and the project keeps growing because Newark keeps changing.”

Although Gutwein hopes to release the final project next spring, she wants to continue to use the website to document the growth in Newark’s art community.

“The website has become more than just, ‘Look at the photos I’ve taken.’ It’s using the city to connect the artists, and it has become a tool for people who want to get into the arts scene in Newark or who want to see an artist in Newark. They can go to this place and see all the artists and learn about their work.”

Featured image: Gladys Grauer, photographed by Colleen Gutwein. Learned more about the project at

Yendor Productions and Rutgers-Newark will unveil a mural on Hawthorne Avenue next month

Rutgers University-Newark and Yendor Productions have announced a neighborhood block party to commemorate the unveiling of a brand new mural. The festivities will take place starting Wednesday, May 11th at 3:30p.m. at 239 Hawthorne Avenue, and will include food and music. The unveiling is free and open to the public.


The mural was commissioned as part of My Brother’s Keeper Newark. The lead artists for the project were Ibrahim Ahmed and Malik Whitaker. Ahmed graduated from Rutgers-Newark, was a senior muralist at City Without Walls Gallery, and has exhibited his work at a number of city galleries, including a solo exhibition at Solo(s) Project House, and group exhibitions at City Without Walls and Gallery Aferro, in addition to other projects around the world. In addition to murals and other public art pieces, Whitaker is currently working on the Brick City Project, for which he paints vibrant Newark scenes on bricks that are meant to represent positive aspects of the city.

Ahmed was assisted by Steve Green, who created the abstract mural on University Avenue between Raymond Boulevard and Academy Street.

Working with the local artists, community members, and professors Anne Englot and Rodney Gilbert, Rutgers-Newark students helped collect and research materials to design the mural and plan the unveiling. Gilbert and his organization, Yendor Productions, have also supplied the project with materials and funds.

According to a statement about the event, the South Ward mural aims to visually depict the community’s young men rising up and helping one another obtain their goals.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said Steve Green was a lead artist on the mural. In fact, Ibrahim Ahmed was a lead artist, and Green assisted him on the project.

Gallery Aferro’s roving portrait studio will meet Newarkers where they are

art cardGallery Aferro, the art gallery located downtown at 73 Market Street, is gearing up to reach a lot deeper into Newark with its latest project. I visited gallery co-director Evonne Davis inside the home of that project — a van that has been outfitted to function as a mobile portrait studio — yesterday outside One Newark Center at McCarter Highway and Mulberry Streets. The Gallery Aferro team was preparing to debut the portrait studio in time for the official kickoff toast for Newark Celebration 350, which would be held 22 floors up at the Newark Club just two hours later. Evonne talked to me about plans to use the mobile studio to capture photographs of Newarkers all around the city throughout the spring and summer.

Andaiye Taylor: So where are we?

Evonne Davis: You are inside of Gallery Aferro’s mobile portrait studio!

Andaiye: And what’s the project all about?

Evonne: Aferro always had a mobile attitude. We really want to do things that are not inside a whitespace gallery.

We’re going to do [Newark] Celebration 350 portraits in here. Instead of having people come to us, were going to go to the neighborhoods. We’ll let them know about our downtown location in the process, but I’m interested in capturing people in places like the laundromat on a Sunday morning. We want to get a real interaction with everyday citizens of Newark doing everyday things.

There are a lot of other portrait projects and photographers that have inspired us, like Akintola Hanif, Tamara Fleming, and Colleen Gutwein, so we’re hoping to link to things they’re working on as well. In October, we’ll present “three hundred fifty portraits of Newark” during Open Doors [the annual citywide art festival].


Andaiye: You probably know that there was a panel discussion at Aljira yesterday about the new Express Newark space [soon to launch in the redeveloped Hahne’s building]. There was a conversation about how galleries interface with the broader community. How does the portrait studio address that?

Evonne: Gallery Aferro was started by three kids from art school that felt marginalized by the greater art community. I come from incredibly creative, working class people who wouldn’t necessarily go to an art gallery because they didn’t feel like it belonged to them. It’s one thing to have people feel welcome at an art gallery, but I think they need to feel like an important part of what’s happening there.

And we’re so busy with the gallery and programs that we don’t always get to go out and see all of Newark. So this is also that opportunity to get to know people in their own element.

Photography is about looking at things and looking at people. I’m not talking about a gaze — I mean using it a way to be known and have your story known. Newark is its people. The citizens of a city are the city. That’s what we want to show with the mobile studio.

Andaiye: Have you set a schedule yet? Do you know what the cadence of your outings is going to be?

Evonne: We have a couple events confirmed, and we’re working with our board members – real Newark-centric folks – to find more community partners. We’re starting with events because it’s a good way to access a lot of people, but we’re also thinking about other ways to find people, like talking to Teixeira [bakery] about parking out in their lot and taking portraits of people who work there. We’d love to get to Vailsburg, where there’s a beautiful mural on a wall next to the park. I’d love to do something in Weequahic Park.

You’re sitting in just three weeks of work. There was a lot of planning among us before that, but we only confirmed that we were definitely doing this a few weeks ago. So we didn’t want to approach people and get them excited, and then come back and say it wasn’t going to happen.


Evonne Davis poses inside Gallery Aferro’s mobile portrait studio a few hours before its debut.

Andaiye: Can people raise their  hands and say, “I want to participate?”

Evonne: We made a flyer that we’ll distribute. We have to think about budget and timing, so we’ll make the arrangement if it’s something we’re able to do. In September, we’ll have to go into production mode to get ready for the exhibition.

Someone presented the idea of putting the three hundred fifty photos in this van and making it a mobile gallery. That could be interesting.

Andaiye: You mentioned other photographers who inspired the project. Where did you get the inspiration for the mobile aspect?

Evonne: I’ve always done things mobile. With Aferro, we thought we were going to be around for one year, but it’s been ten. So I’ve always thought about movement. As a curator, I’m not interested in traditional spaces. I’ve done shows in a wedding tent and in the back of a car. I think nontraditional spaces are more democratic.

Learn more about Gallery Aferro at Visit them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.



West Ward Diary #9: For one artist, a tale of two Newarks

They say there are two Newarks. My neighbors and I have long believed this is true. We see one Newark on the news. We see another in our quiet, gentle, tree lined street, where we look out for one another and we celebrate our differences.

After going to the art gallery celebration of Newark’s 350th birthday, I now see two other versions of the idea that there are two Newarks.

I feel ashamed to admit that my first visit to Gallery Aferro was only recently. I should not have waited. It is a magnificent place, with artist studios on three different floors. They say you can tell when a city is having a “rebirth” because the artists come. It is one thing to appreciate art in a museum. It is quite another thing to appreciate art, and then have the wonderful opportunity to speak directly to the artist!

I chatted with a gentleman in the basement of Gallery Aferro. He told me he does not live here in Newark, but that he does rent space here. As he spoke about his art, his process, and his life as an artist, I ruminated on a conversation I had last year at 27 Mix. (On Halsey Street. If you have not been there, then go. Now. Don’t wait!)


The artist at 27 Mix told me he did not have to come to Newark. He grew up here. He described two experiences of being an artist from Newark instead of being an artist in Newark.

First, he told me how he teaches free art classes for a kids’ program in Newark. He said he loves how the children’s faces light up as he opens a new world to them. He said he would always give that class even though he doesn’t get paid for it. Even though nobody ever bought or even learned about his own art because of it.

Then he told me his experience of “the other Newark.” He said he once took some of his work to a newer gallery downtown, back when they first opened. He described feeling hopeful and excited as he approached what he saw as a glamorous and well-heeled gallery. He said he imagined being one of the local artists highlighted there.

He described how good he would feel having visitors ask him questions about his own art. About his life and experiences. About his own story as an artist. He imagined himself having the very experience I was currently having with the artist at Aferro who rents space here in Newark.

The 27 Mix artist (for I never learned his name) reported the gallery said they had “a long waiting list.” His story reminded me of a scene from the movie Pretty Woman. Julia Roberts’ character visited a high-end boutique and asked if a garment came in her size. She was told by the saleswoman, “It’s very expensive. You should leave.”

It made me see how sometimes the notion of “two Newarks” can have a science fiction feel: two cities occurring at the same time and place, but one is entirely unable to perceive the other.

I admit I waited for years for the artists to come to Newark. I felt so excited when they “got here.” My tiny New York mind was only able to perceive them because they used social media, because they rented space, because they paid money. I now see the artists were here all along.

Frankly, this experience makes me wonder how many other amazing things I am unable to perceive about Newark. One day I hope to have clear enough vision to truly see both Newarks.

How to enter the 2016 Congressional Art Competition for high school students in our district

opportunity cardToday, Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr. (NJ-10) announced that New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District is participating in the 2016 Congressional Art Competition.

 “I am pleased to announce that high school students from New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District will once again have the opportunity to showcase their artistic talents in the Congressional Art Competition,” said Congressman Payne, Jr. “Every year, I am impressed by the creative pieces our local students submit and look forwarding to sharing them with our community and the entire country. I wish all participants the best of luck, and I eagerly await their artwork.”

The competition is open to all high school students in New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District. (Exceptions may be made for schools that have 7th through 12th grades on one campus.) Participating students must work with their school’s art teacher to participate.


 The final winner will be determined by a panel of local experts, and the winning student’s work will be displayed for one year at the U.S. Capitol for members of Congress, staff, and visitors to see. The winner will also travel to Washington, D.C. to participate in a national ceremony with other winners from around the country. An awards reception will also be held on Monday, May 2, 2016, beginning at 3 p.m. at the Newark Museum.

Each submission must be two-dimensional, no larger than 28” X 28” X 4,” no more than 15 pounds, original in design, and prepared for hanging. Each student may submit only one piece of artwork. To learn more about the competition and to see the official guidelines, visit the Congressional Art Competition’s website.  A release form and submission checklist are also available online.

The Student Release Forms are due to Congressman Payne, Jr.’s Newark office by March 30. All artwork must be submitted to Newark office by April 6. Those with questions regarding the 2016 Congressional Art Competition may contact Samantha Washington at (973)-645-3213.

Hycide Magazine will celebrate its eighth print edition, ‘The Survival Issue,’ at Newark Museum on Saturday Feb. 27

culture cardOn February 27th, photojournalist and filmmaker Akintola Hanif will introduce the eighth print issue of his photography magazine Hycide, which explores subculture, art, and conflict through images and words. The launch event is free and open to the public, and will take place at Newark Museum from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Dubbed “The Survival Issue,” the latest edition of the magazine will include stories about the Georgia King Village housing projects in Newark; the favelas of Brazil; the Tenderloin District in San Francisco – known as a haven for the homeless; the story of Aziza Kibibi, a new Jersey woman who bore four children by her biological father (who has since been sentenced to 50 years in prison for raping her); and Cory “C-Blaze” Hamlet, alleged leader of the Grape Street Crips who was arrested earlier this month, among others.

“Hycide is about challenging elitist ideals and illustrating what’s really going on in the minds, hearts and lives of some of America’s finest yet forgotten people,” said Hanif. “Through stories of survival and freedom, our goal is to create understanding and empathy for the misunderstood while providing a visual and literary voice for the voiceless.”


The event will open with an Islamic prayer at 6:20 p.m. sharp. Guests will be able to tour the museum’s galleries, including their latest exhibition: Wondrous Worlds, Art & Islam Through Time & Place, which features more than 100 outstanding works of art showcasing the long history, vast geographic expanse and diversity of works of art in the Islamic world.

Drea dNur (Drea d’Nur), Unin Vited and Khalil Jibran will all be on hand to perform, and Ezrakh and DJ Hard Hitting Henry will spin music throughout the evening.

Guests will also enjoy catering, fresh pastries, cream liquor samples, a beer and wine bar, complimentary henna tattooing, head wrap instruction, oil, incense and body care product giveaways. Hanif and Newark Museum director Steven Kern will address attendees about the issue and the museum as part of the program. Attendees will be able to buy limited editions of the print magazine at the event.

Featured image by photographer Shawn Theodore

Voices of Newark’s past at ‘We Found Our Way: Newark Portraits from the Great Migration’

black history month cardIt was opening night of the Newark Public Library’s Black History Celebration. There was a dynamic keynote speaker, John W. Franklin, from the soon-to-open Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Delicious hot food was prepared by Eclectic Catering. Live piano music played by the talented Miche Braden filled the air. Once gathered together, the Black National Anthem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” resounded through the library’s Centennial Hall as we all sang it together.

And yet the real stars of the evening were those who had come before us: the voices and images of the Krueger-Scott African-American Oral History Collection.

The opening exhibit, entitled “We Found Our Way: Newark Portraits from the Great Migration” wound around the spacious second floor of the library. Dr. Samantha Boardman, guest curator, had gathered together images and recordings from the 1990s oral history project which collected narratives from over one hundred of Newark’s African-American citizens, many who had come North during the Great Migration.

IMG_0660In the glass display cases were photographs of the narrators and the interviewers, as well as other historic images and artifacts of Newark. One could put on a pair of headphones and actually listen to excerpts from those oral histories which had peers interviewing peers in people’s homes, churches, and even City Hall. In addition to the display, an assemblage of paintings and drawings by African-American artists such as Elizabeth Catlett lined the walls between the marble columns. Exhibited as well was a selection of stunning glass books created by Rutgers-Newark students under the guidance of Adrienne Wheeler and Nick Kline. The students’ work was inspired by listening to the Krueger-Scott oral histories.

Catherine J. Lenix-Hooker was there to celebrate. Ms. Hooker, the director of the original project, said she was thrilled to see its results made available to the public, excited to have these voices heard by so many. In fact, a website has just been created through Rutgers University which will allow anyone access to the recordings on site.

All of us in attendance last night were glad we had “found our way” into this special moment. It was affirmation that while Black history may get a bit more attention in the month of February, it is truly part of the fabric that is our nation’s history and thus must be paid attention to each and every day of the year.

The exhibit will be on display at the library through April 9, 2016. Please visit the Newark Public Library’s website for its calendar of Black History Month events and projects.

All photos: Katie Singer

Review: Jo-El Lopez’s “Speaking in Tongues” solo show at Gallery Aferro

art cardJo-El Lopez is a local painter and curator with an agenda. Yes, he has a great, vibrant pallet. Yes, he clearly has mastery of his medium. Yes, his canvases are big, bright and beautiful. Lots of painters do that. However, the more important aspect of Lopez’s work is content. It is political, sociologically important and, to some, offensive. Jo-El’s work reflects and sometimes just satirizes issues of ethnicity, religion and sexuality.

Lopez was born in Juncos, Puerto Rico and raised in Paterson, New Jersey under the Pentecostal doctrine. He studied business and fine arts at Kean and Montclair State Universities, preparing for a life in the corporate world. However, four years ago Lopez’s restless spirit brought him back to his true passion — creating art. In this relatively brief time, his work has been exhibited at The Bronx Art Gallery, Gallery Aferro, The Center for Contemporary Art, New Jersey City University Gallery, Rupert Raven Contemporary, and Jersey City’s City Hall. Last fall he curated two shows as part of the Newark Arts Council’s Open Doors art festival: his own “Sancocho”, and Artfront Galleries’ “Urban Anthropology.”

Jo-El Lopez’s current solo show at Gallery Aferro, “Speaking in Tongues”, successfully confronts our ideas of religion and biblical history. The works presented assault not only the senses with colors that mimic urban graffiti, but also assault the sensibilities with covert satire. A closer examination of “The Stoning of Saint Stephen” or “The Kiss at the 16th Avenue Baptist Church” reveals Lopez’s command of color and his sly wit. “Virgin Miracle” is a warm-toned portrait of The Virgin as a person of color, hands clasped in prayer, eyes closed in beatific calm. A closer look reveals the crossed fingers and the iconic halo as a ring of pregnancy test sticks.

“Speaking in Tongues” will be on display at Gallery Aferro, 73 Market St, Newark New Jersey from January 27 through March 12, 2016.   There will be an artist talk and closing party March 12th at 4 p.m.