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‘Free Your Mind’ at JCAL’s boundary-breaking art exhibition

Aug. 21, 2023 By Tammy Scileppi

Art lovers have been enjoying a memorable exhibition – the first in the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning’s (JCAL) Visual Voices curatorial program – which showcases attention-grabbing works by 44 Queens-based creatives from different backgrounds. Experience “Free Your Mind” at the JCAL galleries until Sept. 1 and explore striking creations by emerging talents to established artists like Damali Abrams, Danny Simmons and Reginald Rousseau — all of whom have previously exhibited to acclaim at JCAL.

Focusing on creatives of color, including filmmaker Ashleigh Alexadria and painter Sadikisha Saundra Collier, the show’s overarching theme of breaking boundaries and getting past doubts and insecurities toward personal and spiritual awareness through art, reverberates throughout.

Experience “Free Your Mind” – a mind-blowing exhibition of striking works by 44 Queens-based creatives, on view at JCAL’s galleries until Sept. 1.Courtesy of Derrick Saint Pierre

“’Free Your Mind’ is a visual story of what life looks like when we, the artists, use our gifts to release ourselves from mental, physical and spiritual blockages,” said curator and visual artist Shenna Vaughn. “We can then trust our instincts, decisions and choices, breaking the cycle of negative thinking and access our infinite ability.”

Vaughn’s work is intuitive and reflects life experiences. She draws inspiration from a fascination with textures, geometric shapes and silhouettes. The Queens native attended the Fashion Institute of Technology and graduated from Hunter College.

Also known for her community work, she has received grants from Queens Council on the Arts and City Artist Corps and is on the committee of Southeast Queens Artist Alliance (SEQAA). Vaughn’s art has appeared in multiple films, publications and exhibitions, and some of her pieces are in Beyoncé’s corporate collection and privately held by the likes of NBA player Josh Powell.

Participating exhibition artist Damali Abrams, who was a JCAL artist-in-residence, is a member of SEQAA and recipient of the Queens Council on the Arts New Works Grant and the Women’s Studio Workshop Right Now! Production Grant. Her conversation-making piece in the “Free Your Mind” show, titledBlood, Coffee & Tears, 2020” (4.5 ‘x 5’), features mixed media collage on textile, menstrual blood, coffee, tears, hair, paper towel, fabric, plant medicine, glitter, ephemera, tchotchkes, fabric, leather, fur and feathers.

Damali Abrams (l.) and curator Shenna Vaughn standing by Abrams’ work.

“My practice is interdisciplinary, including mixed media collage, video, community engagement and performance, pulling from Black feminist thought, with a DIY aesthetic inspired by early hip-hop cultural practice and Afro-Caribbean spiritual aesthetics,” Abrams noted. “The work is largely inspired by growing up in New York City in the 1980s and ‘90s and it is about learning to love the shadow sides of ourselves, the parts that we hide from others and even from ourselves.”

Work by Damali Abrams, an interdisciplinary artist based in southeast QueensPhoto by Michelle Burdine

Work by Damali Abrams, an interdisciplinary artist based in southeast QueensPhoto by Michelle Burdine

Abrams has presented her work at School of Visual Art (SVA), St. John’s University, UConn Stamford, Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), New York University (NYU), SUNY Purchase, Hunter College School of Social Work and Syracuse University’s 601 Tully.

The busy artist has exhibited at many spaces, including El Museo del Barrio in Upper Manhattan; MoCADA (Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art) in Brooklyn; Rush Arts Gallery in Manhattan; and The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture – a research library of the New York Public Library.

Visual Voices is a three-year Visual Arts curatorial initiative spanning from 2023 to 2025. The exhibition will mark the start of a new Visual Arts era at JCAL, in which the organization intends to re-establish best practices for its visual arts department.

JCAL is located at 161-04 Jamaica Ave. in Jamaica.

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