Armory Off-Site, a program of the Armory Show, has partnered with the United States Tennis Association to showcase sculptural works at the U.S. Open by five artists from marginalized communities.
The works will be displayed throughout the site of the Open, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, in late August and early September.
The partnership builds on the Be Open social justice campaign spearheaded by the tennis association’s managing director of marketing, Nicole Kankam. With diversity, inclusion and respect as cornerstones of the campaign, in 2020 the tennis association, which owns and operates the U.S. Open, displayed the work of 18 artists who identify as Black, Indigenous or people of color, in the front, empty seats of the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“It’s all built around this one grounding statement: When you keep an open mind, great things can happen in our sport and out in the world,” Kankam said of the campaign.
The artists whose works will be showcased this year include Jose Dávila, who is represented by the Sean Kelly gallery; Myles Nurse, who is represented by the Half Gallery; Carolyn Salas, represented by Mrs. gallery; Luzene Hill of K Art; and Gerald Chukwuma, with Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery. Each artist will produce one work, with some pieces containing several parts. (The work will be for sale.)
Chukwuma, who incorporates elements of the Uli art tradition from southeastern Nigeria in his sculptural work, uses his pieces to represent voluntary and forced global migration.
“For Africa and for Africans, I think migration has done a lot,” Chukwuma, who is from eastern Nigeria, said in an interview. “It has not just scattered us all over the world, it has also taken away from our culture. It has watered down what we believe in, it has watered down who we are.”
Chukwuma intends to present a sculpture from a series of his that revisits the Igbo landing: In that early 19th-century landing, about 75 newly enslaved West Africans took control of a coastal vessel, grounded the ship and later marched into the waters of Dunbar Creek in Georgia, committing mass suicide.
He said he is glad that the work is going to be shown in the United States. His series will eventually consist of 75 sculptures, for the enslaved Africans who rebelled. “So I think that that’s a beautiful thing,” he said. “There’s liberation there.”
Three of the five artists will create work especially for the U.S. Open, including a sculpture by the Indigenous artist Luzene Hill. The work, “To Rise and Begin Again,” is made up of undulating columns that symbolize the upward push of Cherokee sovereignty, defying efforts to crush it. Each column has a letterpress piece with a Cherokee syllabary to spread awareness of the written language.
“We’re still here, and we keep rising up,” she said.
Hill said in an interview that she was honored and humbled to have her work displayed for a larger audience.
In partnering with the tennis association, Armory Off-Site is striving to reach people who may be unfamiliar with the annual Armory Show, said Nicole Berry, the Armory Show’s executive director.
Armory Off-Site began last September with a mission to introduce international contemporary artists to a wider audience.
“Hopefully we’ll create some art lovers out of the tennis fans,” Berry said, “and maybe vice versa.”
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