Ball State alumna hosts multi-day arts fair for Black artists

<p>The work of 38 Black visual artists will flood the walls of the former warehouse of Stutz Business Center in downtown Indianapolis. “We&#x27;re bringing some new life into the space and transforming a room [by] bringing a lot of creativity to it on the walls, the floors and with the visual art itself,” Mali Simone Jeffers said. Ellen Neiers, Photo Provided</p>

The work of 38 Black visual artists will flood the walls of the former warehouse of Stutz Business Center in downtown Indianapolis. “We're bringing some new life into the space and transforming a room [by] bringing a lot of creativity to it on the walls, the floors and with the visual art itself,” Mali Simone Jeffers said. Ellen Neiers, Photo Provided

"BUTTER" will open at Stutz Business Center in downtown Indianapolis Sept. 2-5. 

Check out the general admission schedule or purchase tickets for “BUTTER” at butterartfair.com 

After a racially discriminative job listing for a new creative director for gallery exhibition “DRIP: Indy’s #BlackLivesMatter Street Mural” was posted last February, Mali Simone Jeffers and Alan Bacon decided to pull out of being guest curators for the exhibit.

It wasn’t until then that the two co-curators of GANGGANG, a cultural development firm aiming to showcase Black talent, decided they needed to take highlighting Black artists into their own hands.

“That's when we made the public announcement that [GANGGANG] has to produce our own show featuring Black artists,” Jeffers, a 2004 Ball State graduate, said. “It wasn't fair to the 18 artists we were bringing into the institution, into that context of everything that was going on there.”

Art is a way for Black artists to express themselves and their culture through mediums like painting, sculpture and ceramics. But, when critics describe the art as “trauma porn” or “only displaying pain,” Jeffers said, it shows how the audience doesn’t consider the context in which the art is being presented.  

Jeffers said it was important for GANGGANG to show the public the proper context of Black art at her upcoming art show, “BUTTER.” 

“If we want to improve this narrative and take control of paying the culture back, we're going to have to do it ourselves,” Jeffers said.  

As curators of the multi-day fine arts fair, Jeffers and Bacon were able to work with expert curators Samuel Levi Jones, Sarah Hoover, A’Lelia Bundles and Braydee Euliss to put together the couple’s first major art fair. 

“BUTTER” will feature work from 38 Black visual artists from Indianapolis and around the country at Stutz Business Center in downtown Indianapolis. The list of artists being represented includes FINGERCREATIONS, Israel Solomon and LaShanda Crowe Storm. Artists will receive 100 percent of the profits from works sold. 

Mali Simone Jeffers said it was important for her and co-founder Alan Bacon to create GANGGANG as a way to put structure around their support for people of color. “GANGGANG not only directly supports artists but we advocate for increased funding and infrastructure for the creative economy more broadly,” Jeffers said. Ellen Neiers, Photo Provided

Before the art fair opens to the general public Sept. 3, a new 90-by-36-foot mural will be unveiled as a dedication to the partnership between GANGGANG and the Indianapolis Recorder Sept. 1 at Stutz Business Center. 

Crowe Storm first met Jeffers when she was working at the Arts Council of Indianapolis in 2010. Storm was showcasing her series, “The Lynch Quilt Projects,” a community-based initiative exploring the history and ramifications of racial violence in the United States, through quilting, embroidery and dyed textiles. 

While displaying her work as an art and soul visual artist at the Indianapolis Artsgarden — owned by the Arts Council of Indianapolis — Crowe Storm’s quilts were only allowed to be shown to the public for an hour. 

“From that day forward, [Jeffers] had this desire to find a different venue to showcase the quilts and the way that we wanted to,” Crowe Storm said. “Sometimes, you just have to go make your own shit.”

Upon seeing how Black artists and their art were being treated by the public, Jeffers decided something needed to be done to give the artists the attention and care their art deserved.

“‘BUTTER’ is about how we do the art justice,” Jeffers said. “The event is a way for people to experience art in a new way and to elevate the narrative around art made by Black people.”

When coming up with a title for her art show, Jeffers said she wanted something that felt fresh and relevant but would also have different meanings for different people. Because butter is an essential ingredient when it comes to cooking, Jeffers said the characteristics of butter made her think of what her show was trying to say about Black artists. 

“Everyone has a relationship with butter,” Jeffers said. “Everybody can talk about butter in some way. It felt like, instantly, everybody was drawn to it and wondered what butter meant.”

Mali Simone Jeffers and Alan Bacon, founders of GANGGANG, are pictured with Deonna Craig, owner of Art by Deonna and one of the artists who will be showcasing art at “BUTTER,” June 2021. “Painting is my escape,” Craig said. “It provides an opportunity to transfer my unique view of the world to the paintings I create.”  Ellen Neiers, Photo Provided

Terry Whitt Bailey, former Ball State chief of staff and professor, met Jeffers in 2010 when Bailey hired her as the director of marketing at the Madam Walker Legacy Center in Indianapolis. Bailey said she was not surprised when she heard about Jeffers’ upcoming art show because it was something she had expected from her. 

“[Mali] develops something in her mind, and you can just see when it's happening, and she sees the end before it's there,” Bailey said. “She was able to bring people together and bring audiences to places to see artists that they may never have thought they would have liked. She's been doing that, and now it’s on a bigger scale.”

As a curator and a dancer, respectively, both Jeffers and Bailey have learned not to tolerate any negative comments on Black art. Because harsh comments usually come from people who don’t understand those who express themselves artistically, Bailey said, people should focus on the way the artist is showing how they feel. 

“[The art] may not mean the same thing to you, but it's very important to have a respect for the creative process and the person who was creating it,” Bailey said. 

Although Jeffers said she is excited and anxious about her first art show, she wants to make sure the artists presenting their work at “BUTTER” are proud of how GANGGANG has taken care of them and their art. Jeffers said she hopes the audience is “pleasantly surprised” by how they are experiencing the art and to question themselves on the true meaning of Black art. 

“I would love to have my fellow Cardinals here, so if people are looking for something to do Labor Day weekend, come to ‘BUTTER,’” Jeffers said. 

Contact Sumayyah Muhammad with comments at smuhammad3@bsu.edu or on Twitter @sumayyah0114.

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