Alternative Narrative Art Show: Painting a Picture of What Black History Month is All About

by Pete Janny, Sports Editor

Art oftentimes works as a narrative; it has a story to tell and can be an outlet for many to express their deepest desires. Its beauty and meaning contain the power to bring others together. Come Feb. 23, Jaspers will have the chance to appreciate a special kind of artwork when Student Engagement reveals its Alternative Narrative Art Show featuring works from Black students on campus. The show is a chance to celebrate the importance of this month, a time in which the world reflects on the accomplishments of Blacks throughout history.

“The Alternative Narrative Art Show is a showcase of Black artists that illuminates the different ways that people of color represent themselves in the art world,” read a description of the event on the college’s website. “The selected artists will be featured on banners posted around campus, culminating in a walk-through gallery show on the 4th floor of the Student Commons. Each artist will display additional work from their collection. The event is co-sponsored by the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.”

With the help of Student Engagement, two individuals, in particular, have been working hard in the lead up to the big reveal. Although most known for their performance on the court, Manhattan basketball players Ebube Ebube and Courtney Warley have been working to help coordinate the lineup for the show. 

What started out as a simple idea has come a long way after taking initiative themselves to recruit artists. From the early planning stages up until now, the purpose of the show hasn’t changed, providing Black students at the college the chance to share their artistic skills with the community and contribute to the festivities of Black History Month. For Warley and Ebube, their collaboration on this project comes on the heels of assisting Student Engagement and the Multicultural Center with other upcoming events, including a trivia night and sneaker expo, that honor Black History Month.

“From the first day I knew this could be a really powerful event,” Warley told The Quadrangle. “I’m glad that we decided to have the proceeds raised from donations and raffled pieces donated to the Harlem Educational Activities Fund which is an amazing nonprofit for underserved students and has a personal connection with someone on my team.”

The whole production of the show is a display of humanitarianism; a combination of raising money and empowering minority students. Ebube and Warley are counted among the population of Black students at the school who, now in their senior year, are working to improve the academic and social experience for people of color. Their status as student-athletes doesn’t just mean balancing basketball and school responsibilities; instead, their amplified platform can be used to address real-world concerns as well. 

“I acknowledge that being an athlete gives me access to support and resources to use to help elevate my platform,” Ebube said of the opportunities student-athletes have to give back. “I cherish that I can use that access to be able to take action on initiatives that can bring value to the community.”

According to Ebube, it’s sometimes simply a matter of encouraging Black youth to chase their dreams, regardless of what they aspire to be. By having a hero or a mentor, it’s less likely for them to fall into the trap of certain stereotypes.

“I would say that my top hero would be Roger Ross Williams, who was the first Black director to win an Oscar ten years ago,” Ebube said. “Although he is not the first Black filmmaker, who is Oscar Micheaux in the early 1900s, Williams was the first to win an Oscar which for someone my age gave me the belief that it was possible for someone who looked like me.”

The events of 2020 marked the latest chapter in the history of race relations in America. The wealth gap widened and instances of police brutality triggered social unrest in cities across America, all the while the coronavirus pandemic disproportionately affected people of color. The past year has been busy both on and off campus for those trying to create awareness for these injustices. 

As for Ebube and Warley, this isn’t their first rodeo with these types of grievances. As the Black Lives Matter Movement rose to the limelight over the summer, the MAAC announced a United for Justice campaign that has been ongoing throughout the current basketball season. Meanwhile, the Manhattan women’s basketball team went one step further during the Fall semester by holding a Black Lives Matter Vigil on the Quad that was open to all members of the college community and which will prove to be a lasting highlight of this academic year. 

“I feel like the Alternative Narrative Art Show will do something similar in bringing the campus together to witness Black students use their voice and celebrate Black culture,” Warley said when comparing the vigil and the upcoming art show. “Now more than ever, it is important for Black voices to be heard and understood.”

The turnout for the art show remains to be seen, but the success of the vigil was probably a good harbinger for what might come on Feb. 23. This Black History Month has seen different groups and individuals on campus such as Ebube and Warley, Student Engagement and the Multicultural Center do their part in making it a special month on campus. They realize, as do many others, the importance of celebrating Black history — even if at first, according to Warley, it means humbly admitting what you don’t know for the sake of learning. 

“Regardless of what race you are, I feel like Black History Month can serve as a time period for knowledge and understanding. There is always more to learn about Black History, Black figures, and Black culture. During this time I really try to take in all the content out there and just keep learning.