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'We Are Women': Jean Cornwell Wheat and Elizabeth Salaam with 'Beautiful, Brilliant & Brave'

Every week from March 18, 2024 until April 18, 2024.
Monday: 12 PM - 5 PM
Tuesday: 12 PM - 5 PM
Wednesday: 12 PM - 5 PM
Thursday: 12 PM - 5 PM
San Diego Mesa College: Art Gallery
Opening reception: 4-7 p.m. Thursday, March 21 Artist talk: 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, April 17 Free parking during these two special events; otherwise parking is $1 per hour

Reception: 4-7 p.m. Thursday, March 21
Artist Talk: 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, April 17

Free parking during the event in FACULTY spaces in LOT 1 only. All events are free and open to the public

About the exhibitions:
With panels celebrating local women and artwork delving into personal narratives of displacement and connection, this dual-themed exhibit shines a light on Black women's experiences in America. Artwork by Jean Cornwell Wheat and Elizabeth Salaam is paired with 2014’s "Beautiful, Brilliant and Brave: a Celebration of Black Women" curated by Starla Lewis and Aisha Hollins for the Women's Museum of California. Presented by the Mesa College Art Gallery in honor of Women’s History Month this exhibition will be on display from March 18 – April 18, 2024, with a reception on Thursday, March 21 from 4 - 7 p.m. featuring a special musical performance by Mariea Antoinette.

There will also be additional programming including story telling, music and workshops. An artist talk is scheduled for Wednesday, April 17, 5 – 7 pm. The gallery is closed for Spring Break: March 25 - 29.

The exhibit “Beautiful, Brilliant and Brave” consists of biographical panels recognizing the contributions of twenty female Black leaders with connections to the San Diego region. San Diego Mesa College president Ashanti Hands and retired San Diego Community College chancellor Dr. Constance Carroll are honored in this iteration and included with several notable artists, educators and community activists.

Gallery director Alessandra Moctezuma took this as an opportunity to highlight two local Black women artists belonging to different generations: Jean Cornwell Wheat and Elizabeth Salaam.

As a mixed race child adopted into a white home and raised in a white town, Elizabeth Salaam grew up with a deep sense of disconnection. As an adult, in hair salons and living rooms and around kitchen tables, she finally found herself in deep conversations with other Black women. For this new body of work, Salaam plaited synthetic hair into braids, and used seed pods, branches and plaster-cast body parts to weave together narratives of displacement and to explore the multifaceted experience of being Black in America. The braids also symbolize the bonds between women in all cultures and the fundamental element of community in the health and wholeness of a human being.

Many of the braids in the exhibition were crafted in communal settings, and their abundance embodies the spirit of togetherness and resilience. Through “Re-Mother,” a large womb-like chair woven with braids and adorned with breasts, and its companion “Re-home,” a film that captures the intimacy of Black women braiding together, the work highlights the significance of community as a source of nourishment and a place of comfort.

Painter, sculptor, multi-media artist, and a professor of art history, Jean Cornwell Wheat invites the viewer into her personal realm in artworks that cover a variety of topics. Cornwell Wheat moved to San Diego from Harlem in 1966, and the cultural life of this historical Black epicenter shaped her unique and timeless perspective. Her canvases are vigorous and engaging. In the exhibit there is a large portrait of author Toni Morrison, who stares at us with an intense gaze and a luminous landscape that breaks up in a cubist prismatic composition. An abstracted nude and a lush enlargement of a snail’s shell, both rendered in warm flesh tones, speak to earthiness and our connection to Nature. A female head, regal as an Egyptian goddess, is actually a depiction of the only artwork that survived the 2007 fire that destroyed the artist’s studio: a bronze bust burned to reveal amazing flecks of brilliant colors.

Ms. Jean, as she's affectionately called, is a mentor to under-privileged youth in San Pasqual Valley. In 2023, the San Diego Museum of Art acquired one of her paintings for their collection.

Gallery Hours: M, T, W, TH 12 - 5 p.m. (Or by appointment.) Closed Fridays, Weekends & Holidays. For additional information, please visit: or call (619) 388-2829.

Parking during non-events is $1 per hour. Kiosks available in Lot 1 near the gallery, or use the PARKMOBILEAPP, campus code 21003.

Related links:
Facebook: Mesa College Art Gallery
Instagram: @sdmesacollege_gallery  
TikTok: sdmesacollege_gallery

San Diego Mesa College: Art Gallery

7250 Mesa College Dr.
San Diego, California 92111

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Dates and times of events are subject to change without notice. Always check the event organizer's website for the most updated schedule before attending.