|  March 07, 2022

Rising Cleveland artist Erykah Townsend aims to make a splash based on merit, not race

Erykah Townsend, a 2020 graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art, is off to a strong start as a professional artist in Cleveland.

That’s great for her and for the city, which aspires to make itself a more hospitable place for anyone pursuing a creative career in any discipline.

But as a Black woman, and as a conceptual artist, Townsend feels she’s facing challenges in navigating a culture that appears suddenly to be offering Black artists opportunities based on identity, not merit, that could limit her expressive freedom.

Townsend’s critique of the current movement toward diversity, equity, and inclusion, which she discussed in an interview with and The Plain Dealer about her current exhibition at Spaces gallery in Cleveland, is striking. It’s also highly relevant at a time in which arts institutions here and elsewhere across the country are striving to address racially-based injustice.

Townsend said she feels pressure to focus on suffering and oppression because that’s what a newly sensitized marketplace, filled with gatekeepers who have undergone diversity training, has come to demand because it serves a new set of institutional needs that to her feel fake. She likens it to being artistically confined in a “Dirty bubble,’’ to cite the title of one of her recent works.

As the Spaces show demonstrates, Townsend doesn’t want to be pinned down. Entitled “Bitter Sweet,’’ the exhibition riffs on the idea that children’s cartoon shows and birthday parties are saturated with images, toys, and games that could be read as sanctioning violent competition, whether physical or economic, later in life.

Article coninued on publisher's site., by Steven Litt

Original Article

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