While working on her newest series of paintings, Uzo Njoku learned the importance of telling a story through portraiture.
The story Njoku tells with “Out of the Shadows,” on view this month at the New City Arts Welcome Gallery, is one that has global reach and widespread effects, and is perhaps not told—or heard—nearly enough.
“Out of the Shadows” is a series of large-scale portraits of dark-skinned black women painted in front of vividly-hued, bold backgrounds that reference traditional West African Ankara print fabrics. By juxtaposing her subjects’ dark skin against a brightly colored background, Njoku pushes the women she paints to
the forefront, not just of the painting but of the viewer’s attention.
Njoku, who was born in Nigeria and immigrated to the U.S. with her parents when she was 7 years old, is making a point about skin lightening and skin bleaching, a practice the World Health Organization considers a global public health concern.
According to a 2011 WHO report on the effects of mercury in skin lightening products, up to 77 percent of women in Nigeria “are reported to use skin lightening products on a regular basis,” likely the highest proportion in the world.
These soaps and creams are heavily marketed to women in countries where skin-lightening products are not banned. When applied to the body’s largest organ—the skin—they can cause kidney damage, skin rashes, skin discoloration, and scarring, and can negatively affect the skin’s resistance to fungal and bacterial infections.
Njoku says the damage is more than skin-deep—it’s emotional and psychological, too. “In many countries, like Nigeria, whiteness is still connected to the old power structures of
British and European colonialism,” says Njoku, to a time when “’whiteness’ symbolized power and status.”
Njoku notes that in these countries (the U.S. included), women of color, and dark-skinned black women in particular, are often made to feel small or in the background. And so with her “intentionally black portraiture paintings of black women,” she aims not just to capture and emphasize their physical beauty, but their intellectual and emotional complexity as well.
“I’m hoping to captivate the viewer’s attention and evoke a sense of dominant power coming from the women in the paintings,” she says. —Erin O’Hare
The Bridge PAI 209 Monticello Rd. “P.O. Box America,” Curtis Grimstead’s photo series that captures the charm of America’s rural post offices as well as the grand architecture of post offices in major U.S. cities. 5:30-9:30pm.
Chroma Projects 103 W. Water St. “Uncle Drosselmeyer’s Other Gifts,” a group exhibition proposing ideas of magic, imagination, and transformation, featuring fantastical “toys” by Megan Marlatt, Sean Samoheyl, Beatrix Ost, Deborah Rogers, Barbara Iobst, and Aggie Zed. 5-7pm.
CitySpace Art Gallery 100 Fifth St. NE. “Looking Deep Into Nature,” featuring photography by George Beller, a doctor and former chief of the cardiovascular division at UVA Health System. 5:30-7:30pm.
C’ville Arts Cooperative Gallery 118 E. Main St., Downtown Mall. “New Directions for Ben Greenberg Photography,” featuring new work by a photographer known for his dramatic and inspirational images of central Virginia. 6-8pm.
Dovetail Design + Cabinetry 309 E. Water St. “Winter Solace,” an exhibition of Melissa Malone’s oil and acrylic paintings on canvas of various bodies of water, meant to conjure feelings of contentment and quiet. 5-7pm.
Fellini’s Restaurant 200 Market St. “Celebrating the Season,” oil paintings by Marla McNamara. 5:30-7pm.
Joseph Joseph & Joseph Antiques 508 E. Main St., Downtown Mall. An exhibition of paintings by Edward Thomas. 5-7pm.
Malleable Studios 1304 E. Market St., Ste. T. An artisan soirée and sale featuring work by Tavia Brown, Mia van Beek, Rebecca Phalen, and Karen Eide. 5-8pm.
McGuffey Art Center 201 Second St. NW. In the Sarah B. Smith Gallery, the annual holiday shop full of gifts made by McGuffey member artists; in the Downstairs, Upstairs, North, and South Hall Galleries, the annual cash-and-carry holiday members’ show, featuring work by both renting and associate McGuffey artists, including Tami Walker, Klaus Anselm, Jill Kerttula, John Trippel, Judith Ely, Giselle Gautreau, Charlene Cross, and others. 5:30-7:30pm.
Milli Coffee Roasters 400 Preston Ave. Ste. 150. An exhibition of landscape, portrait, and urban photography by Zach Phillips and Taylor Rigg. 7-10pm.
New Dominion Bookshop 404 E. Main St., Downtown Mall. “Summer Days,” featuring oil paintings by Blake Hurt. 5:30-7pm.
Piedmont Virginia Community College College Dr. “Let There Be Light,” a one-night-only outdoor exhibition of light-based artworks and performances that illuminate the darkened grounds surrounding the Dickinson Building. 6-9pm.
Roy Wheeler Realty Co. 404 Eighth St. NE. “Enter Nym’s World,” an exhibition of work by Nym Pedersen, who keeps in mind the approach of many great jazz artists when he makes paintings and sculpture: Paint what you feel, and keep it free. 5-7:30pm.
Second Street Gallery 115 Second St. SE. In the main gallery, “Attraction,” an exhibition of new botanical work by John Grant, who collects blossoms from his personal gardens and across central Virginia, and brings them to his studio to scan at a high resolution; in the Dové Gallery, “TORN,” an exhibition of work focused on the modern portrayal of women by photographer Scott Irvine and artist Kim Meinelt, who together work as WAXenVINE. 5:30-7:30pm.
Spring Street Boutique 107 W. Main St. Downtown Mall. “I Saw an Angel,” featuring paintings by Jane Goodman and Winston Wiant. 6-8pm.
Studio IX 969 Second St. SE. “Dear Lilith: A Body of New Work. Sincerely, Sam Gray,” an exhibition that shares the unfolding conversation between the artist, a self-described “modern angry feminist,” and Lilith, ancient mother goddess, proto-feminist, and original wife of Adam. 5:30-7:30pm.
Top Knot Studio 103 Fifth St. SE. “These Days,” featuring work by Susan Mills and Bethany Pritchard. 5:30-7:30pm.
VMDO Architects 200 E. Market St. “Beads and Wood,” a multimedia show of work by the firm’s architects. 5:30-7:30pm.
Welcome Gallery 114 Third St. NE. “Out of the Shadows,” featuring Uzo Njoku’s vivid, large-scale paintings that bring African women, who are often made to feel small or in the background, to the forefront. 5-7:30pm.
WriterHouse 508 Dale Ave. “University Reflections,” an exhibition of oil paintings on canvas, textured with a palette knife, by Lauchlan Davis. 5-7pm.
WVTF/RadioIQ 216 W. Water St. An exhibition of landscape paintings by Nelson County artist Susan B. Viemeister. 5-7pm.
First Fridays is a monthly art event featuring exhibit openings at many downtown art galleries and additional exhibition venues. Several spaces offer receptions.
Other December shows
Annie Gould Gallery 121B S. Main St., Gordonsville. A holiday show featuring paintings, jewelry, photography, sculpture, textiles, and other unique gift items from more than 25 artists and artisans.
Art on the Trax 5784 Three Notch’d Rd., Crozet. “Looking West,” featuring Deliece Blanchard’s plein air paintings from national parks. Opens December 8, 4-6pm.
Buck Mountain Episcopal Church 4133 Earlysville Rd., Earlysville. “Hope: Prepare the Way,” featuring work by BMEC artists.
Create Gallery at Indoor Biotechnologies 700 Harris St. “Faces at Work,” an exhibition of Blake Hurt’s 40 small oil-on-canvas portraits of people who work at 700 Harris St.
Gift Forest 301 E. Main St., Downtown Mall. The Bridge PAI’s annual holiday pop-up market features handmade gifts, vintage finds, and vinyl records from more than 100 local purveyors.
The Fralin Museum of Art at UVA 155 Rugby Rd. “Reflections: Native Art Across Generations”; “Excavations: The Prints of Julie Mehretu”; “Unexpected O’Keeffe: The Virginia Watercolors and Later Paintings”; “Camera Work: American Photography of the Early 20th Century”; “Highlights from the Collection of Heywood and Cynthia Fralin”; and “Oriforme” by Jean Arp.
Jefferson School African American Heritage Center 233 Fourth St. NW “(W)here To Stay?!,” An exhibition of Magnus Wennman’s photographs of Syrian refugee children accompanied by artwork and writings by Charlottesville High School inspired by the stories of displacement of their classmates. Opens December 12, 6-8pm.
Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection 400 Worrell Dr. “Freshwater Saltwater Weave,” a series of glass works by contemporary urban-based Arrernte artist Jenni Kemarre Martiniello; “Beyond Dreamings: The Rise of Indigenous Australian Art in the United States,” revealing the ways in which, since 1988, Indigenous Australian artists have forged one of the most globally significant art movements of our time.
Les Yeux du Monde 841 Wolf Trap Rd. “Annie Harris Massie: New Paintings,” featuring work that captures the subtleties of color and light played over area landscapes.
Martha Jefferson Hospital Cancer Center, Second Floor 500 Martha Jefferson Dr. “Sunrises and Sunsets,” featuring work by Randy Baskerville. Opens December 11.
Piedmont Virginia Community College V. Earl Dickinson Building, 501 College Dr. In the North Gallery, “Possibilities,” featuring ceramic vessels and objects by Tom Clarkson; in the South Gallery, works by PVCC art faculty such as Fenella Belle, Ashley Gill, Lou Haney, Will May, Beryl Solla, Jeremy Taylor, and others.
Shenandoah Valley Art Center 122 S. Wayne Ave., Waynesboro. The annual winter contemporary juried exhibition, this year titled “Women’s Work” and featuring a collection of cutting-edge work from Inez Berinson Blanks, Colleen Conner, Eileen Doughty, Sarah Lapp, Peg Sheridan, Astrid Tuttle, and others. Opens December 8, 5-7pm.
Telegraph Art & Comics 211 W. Main St., Downtown Mall. Fourth annual picture show with Adrian Todd Webb, featuring small, original, framed pop-culture prints.
UVA Medical Center Main Lobby 1215 Lee St. “Distant Worlds,” an exhibition of 15 deep space paintings by Patty Avalon.
Westminster Canterbury of the Blue Ridge 250 Pantops Mountain Rd. “Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water,” featuring 24 art quilts by the Fiber and Stitch Art Collective. Open daily, 9am to 5pm, during the month of December.