NEWARK, NJ - For Armisey Smith, art is not just a way to see the world. It's a way to change the world.
"Women are always put on the sidelines regarding their intellect or creativity. We're not always looked at as seriously as we need to be," said Smith, a Newark artist whose installation Nice/Nasty and Everything In Between, featuring female artists only, will be part of the Newark Arts Festival this week.
"People take art for granted, but I feel that art is something that can empower and inspire. I think we have a responsibility," she said.
The festival, which begins on Thursday, Oct. 4 and ends on Sunday, Oct. 7, is intended to show off the vibrant arts scene in Newark, a potent force that helped the city's revitalization begin and propels it to continue. The work being shown at the festival is a reminder that the power of art doesn't just transform the civic landscape - it also changes those who interact with it.
Many of the exhibitions will focus on communities that have often been forgotten by mainstream culture. For example, Artfront Galleries is producing seven exhibitions for the festival, including Out Loud. The exhibition, curated by Rafael Cuello, focuses on LGBTQ identity in urban America.
The Paul Robeson Galleries, part of Rutgers University-Newark, is another festival locale. The galleries will utilize its space at Express Newark, an arts incubator conceived by Rutgers University-Newark in collaboration with the local artist community, for the "Mirror Mirror" exhibition. The exhibition includes work by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh called “Stop Telling Women to Smile,” which challenges the concept that women are meant to fulfill a function for men, or perform femininity.
"We're looking at people that have traditionally been left out of mainstream portraiture, which includes anybody who may not fit a certain type," said Anonda Bell, director and chief curator of the Paul Robeson Galleries at Express Newark. "Artists in this exhibition see themselves as presenting ideas because they are compelled to, and it's a way of activating change. This show and the many others around Newark during the festival are trying to challenge the idea that you may have about certain issues. We are providing artists an opportunity to speak their truth."
The question of what the truth is has taken on added significance this week. The testimony of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault, before the Senate Judiciary Committee has left the country shaken.
Smith, who herself was a victim of sexual assault, said Ford's allegations told a story that "has been happening for millennia." But for Smith, and many others who feel that our society needs change, art is a way to work through painful problems, then move forward.
"You can use your power for good or for evil. We can relate to what happened to her, but we persevere, and we persist," said Smith as she prepared her exhibition space on Halsey Street. "This woman is going to keep going. The point for us, as artists, is to keep going."