Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Visual Arts Center of New Jersey Opens Exhibitions Celebrating Gallery Aferro

This February, the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey (VACNJ) will present exhibitions that celebrate the Newark-based arts organization Gallery Aferro, which recently closed its doors after 20 years.

Funded by visionary artists and changemakers Evonne M. Davis and Emma Wilcox, Gallery Aferro was a platform for the exchange of ideas in service of advancing human dignity and beauty, with a focus on visual arts as the vehicle. 

The Art Center’s first-floor galleries will showcase a range of media by past recipients of the Lynn and John Kearney and Sustainable Arts Fellowships.

WHEN: Friday, February 23, through May 24, 2024. A Last Look reception will be held on Sunday, May 19.
WHERE:  68 Elm Street in Summit, NJ. Gallery hours: Monday– Thursday, 10 AM–8 PM; Friday & Saturday, 10 AM–5 PM; and Sunday, 11 AM–4 PM. Please call 908.273.9121 to confirm holiday hours. Visit for more information.

VACNJ’s Main Gallery features the exhibition Gallery Aferro: Dignity and Beauty—guest-curated by Edwin Ramoran—that showcases works by Katrina Bello, Anjali Benjamin-Webb, Ruth Borgenicht, Amy Faris, Krystle Lemonias, kara lynch, Bud McNichol, Lisette Morel, and Steve Rossi. They are a select group of alumni from fellowships that directly served specific cohorts with support, space, and opportunities. Within this progressive, creative community, the Lynn and John Kearney Fellowship for Equity was awarded to women of color, while the Sustainable Arts Fellowship was for artists who are parents. The artwork presented here addresses themes of family, loss, memory, and place. At times visually somber, the work exhibited embodies the central message in Gallery Aferro’s mission statement for the advancement of “human dignity and beauty.” (Above, right: 
Amy Faris, Grid Bone Pink, 2018, Mixed media on paper, 12 x 12 inches)

Concurrently, the Mitzi and Warren Eisenberg Gallery will feature video and performance ephemera in the exhibition Le’Andra LeSeur and Anna Parisi: Bearing Witness. This exhibition examines the act of bearing witness to oppressive and debilitating systems, particularly those faced by women of color. LeSeur and Parisi, recipients of Gallery Aferro’s Lynn and John Kearney Fellowship for Equity, address themes of Blackness, gender, and self-representation. Both artists reclaim lens-based media to dismantle stereotypes and interrogate power structures while creating a space for reflection and healing. In the face of traumatic experiences and oppressive systems, the artists bring beauty, empathy, and healing to bear in their practice. (Left: Anna Parisi, Caught in the Act, 2020, video still. Courtesy of the artist.)

The Marité & Joe Robinson Strolling Gallery I will highlight a selection of digital collages in the exhibition Kay Reese: 50 Million African Trees. This work is inspired by the struggle and achievements of Kenyan activist and Nobel prize winner Wangarĩ Maathai, the first Black African woman to win the Nobel Prize for the Environment. Featuring fractured imagery and contrasting colors, these works celebrate Maathai’s planting of 50 million trees and her fight for Kenyan women’s rights. Working in a Surrealist vein, Reese, who is an alumna of Gallery Aferro’s Lynn and John Kearney Fellowship for Equity, intends to emotionally impact viewers while connecting to local environmental issues. (Above, Right: Kay Reese. Intervention, 2020, Photo-based digital collage printed with archival ink on lustre photo paper, 24 x 30 inches.)

The Art Center’s Stair-gazing Gallery presents photography by Hidemi Takagi, a 2022 recipient of the Sustainable Arts Fellowship. She is a community photographer, visual artist, and social practitioner who documents diverse community members in her Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. The photograph Mikua, on view in the Stair-gazing Gallery, is from Takagi’s “IDENTITIES” series, an ongoing photography installation project that explores issues related to mixed-race identities. Takagi began this project during the COVID-19 pandemic and initially focused on her own family but has since expanded the project to include portraits of diverse individuals in New York City as well as Bayonne, New Jersey; Miami, Florida; and Tokyo and Yokohama, Japan. By interviewing her subjects and encouraging them to wear attire that reflects their cultural backgrounds, Takagi investigates the public and private sides of racial identity. (Above, left: 
Hidemi Takagi, Mikua from the "IDENTITIES" series, 2022, Digital C Print on the textile)

About Gallery Aferro

Visionary artists and changemakers Evonne M. Davis and Emma Wilcox co-founded Gallery Aferro in Newark in 2003. Considered the oldest alternative space in New Jersey, Aferro prioritized cultural work dealing with social inequities, economic struggles, and transformative change. In January 2024, after 20 years of supporting art and artists and organizing hundreds of innovative exhibitions, residencies, and community-engagement and educational programs, Davis and Wilcox announced the closing of Gallery Aferro.

About the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey

For 90 years, the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey has been exclusively dedicated to viewing, making, and learning about contemporary art. Recognized as a leading non-profit arts organization, the Art Center’s renowned Studio School, acclaimed exhibitions, and educational outreach initiatives serve thousands of youths, families, seniors, and people with special needs every year.


Gallery Aferro: Dignity and Beauty is supported by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Major support for the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey is provided by The Wilf Family Foundations; New Jersey State Council on the Arts; The Estate of Pamela Hauptfleisch; the Institute of Museum and Library Services; and the Art Center community of supporters.