Juneteenth art exhibits run the gamut in Colorado this year

Juneteenth art exhibits run the gamut in Colorado this year

Leonard Anderson’s “passion for fashion” is clear in his photography. The Denver-based artist specializes in professional headshots and editorial fashion shoots like the ones he did for an exhibit at the Cottonwood Arts Center in Colorado Springs that features 13 artists of color.

One of his pieces, “Cassandra-Pretty In a Pink Parachute,” points the lens at a model dressed in a vibrant and flowing pink garment that stretches along the length of the image — a custom piece that Anderson said he made himself. Another, “Afropunk Queens,” is of three models posing on a rock in the Denver Botanic Gardens. The photo required Anderson to get down on the ground to get the angle just right, he said, resulting in a “kind of 3D” effect that is boosted by the lake over which the models were standing. All three of Anderson’s submitted photos feature models of color who he said he wanted to showcase.

The show, titled the “Cottonwood Juneteenth Afro-Caribbean Celebration,” is open through June 25 and honors the holiday of Juneteenth, on June 19, which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans and honors Black culture.

Juneteenth is a federal U.S. holiday for the first time this year, and a number of organizations around Colorado, like Cottonwood, are marking it by celebrating Black artwork, music and culture.

Anderson, 51, is one of the more established artists with work on display at Cottonwood; he’s been photographing for decades.

Artists were purposefully not given any sort of theme or guidelines for their submissions, so the range of work and subjects explored in the gallery is vast, said Cottonwood Director of Curation Jess Preble. Some artists explored heavy messages in their art involving slavery and current social issues, some took a more abstract or lighthearted approach. The youngest displayed artists, 2-year-old Eva and her sister, 4-year-old Flourish, painted a picture of their cat.

This will be the second Juneteenth exhibit the Cottonwood Center for the Arts has held. Preble said many artists from the center’s first gallery last year returned this year, including Anderson. Preble said the gallery this year features “just about everything you could imagine” as far as various art mediums go, ranging from traditional oil paintings to assemblages of mixed media.

The Denver Art Museum is also highlighting the work of artists of color this Juneteenth, and its booth at the Juneteenth Music Festival this weekend will feature Black artists who have recently collaborated with the museum, including current artist in residence, Kerrie Joy.

The museum will also host an evening event with local artists on June 17, titled “Untitled: Creative Fusions” that will celebrate Juneteenth and Black Pride with spoken word and poetry, DJ’s, drag performances, and video screenings.

Students at the University of Colorado Denver can also attend the university’s Juneteenth Denver Art Walk the morning of June 19 to see the murals and street art on display by local artists.

As for Cottonwood’s installation, which the center plans to hold each year into the future, Executive Director Jon Khoury said its significance extends far beyond Juneteenth.

“It’s not it’s not just about Cottonwood, it’s about this whole thing — of inclusiveness to a level that’s basically unlimited because we want unique expression to live here,” he said.

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