Pamela “Kabuya” Bowens-Saffo drove around town practicing what she calls “art in action.” She distributed limited edition art posters to local businesses, grocery stores, hospitals, nursing homes, the post office and the police station. The image front and center is of William H. Johnson’s “Knitting Party,” which dates back to 1941.
The poster’s message extends gratitude to food service providers, teachers, nursing home staff, sanitation workers, police, firemen and health care workers. The artwork depicts African American Red Cross nurses mobilizing to knit clothing for soldiers who fought abroad.
In spite of the nearly 80 years between that movement and the current pandemic, there is something familiar in the artwork, as mask-making initiatives strive to keep community members and medical personnel safe.
“As I took (the posters) around town, everyone was so happy and wanted to talk about the image,” said Bowens-Saffo. “Even someone seeing me put one up on a lamppost in traffic blew their horn and asked to have one. It’s a wonderful thing that begins to happen when you go outside the gallery space to engage with the local community. Everyone wants to be a part of it.”
Bowens-Saffo serves as the arts administrator and chief curator for the Anderson Brickler Gallery. She says it was important for her and Celeste Hart, gallery founder and director, to show their appreciation for the service of essential workers. The distribution of the limited-edition art posters is presented as a community outreach initiative.
As the Anderson Brickler Gallery enters its third year, Bowens-Saffo says this work is in line with its mission to feature art that makes a difference to the community at large. She often researches the local environment for inspiration and is gearing up for several virtual exhibitions as the gallery shifts gears from its regular programming.
Bowens-Saffo empathizes with artists who have been separated from their studios and equipment during this time. As a printmaker, she has focused on sketching while quarantining away from her typical machines.
Her last body of work, “Tracks & Bridges” was shown at LeMoyne Arts, and she recently created a mural on Adams Street titled “Fabric of Life: Historical Covers,” acknowledging the works of slave and folk artist Harriet Powers and African American graphic artist Elizabeth Catlett.
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