RICHMOND, Va. — The Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia has several events for Black History Month, starting with the opening of a Murry DePillars exhibit that runs through June 3.
An accomplished artist and dean of the Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts from 1976-1995, DePillars is known for his iconic paintings covering a broad history.
The 37-piece exhibit Murry DePillars: Double Vision spans themes from ancestral Africa, the period of American slavery, and more recent historical events including the Civil Rights Movement, as well as contemporary cultural traditions.
DePillars was a longtime member of AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists) an organization with the mission to explore and define the Black visual aesthetic. DePillars, a longtime Richmond resident, passed away in 2008.
Some of his early works include detailed line drawings and imagery of civil rights episodes from the 1960s. The pivotal Aunt Jemima work transforms an image regarding Aunt Jemima on the pancake and waffle package, but also commemorates the protest by John Carlos and Tommy Smith at the Mexico City Olympics.
The stars behind the Aunt Jemima, upon closer inspection, are police badges. Mrs. Mary DePillars, DePillars’ wife, explained that the art was created following the violent summer of 1968, and the badge symbols were a direct response to the raid of the Black Panther headquarters.
“It’s an extraordinary work of art,” said Richard Woodward, a board member at the museum and curator of African Art at the VMFA, who curated the DePillars exhibition.
DePillars work is rich with stories and narratives, and in his later years, it transitioned from American events to global events.
“He later joined AfriCOBRA which is the work you’ll see around us now, it represents his quilt esthetics in which he has significantly researched African themes and African-American themes and blended them all in this wonderful geometry that you see in the paintings,” Woodward continued.
As the exhibition name implies, with work like this the viewer must look closely, and look more than once. In the AfriCOBRA works you will find ghosted images and Afrocentric imagery, along with contemporary imagery.
This is the first original exhibition organized by the museum at its new Leigh Street Armory location.
“DePillars was a dynamic and innovative artist, and his work gives people an opportunity to see how history and culture inform art,” said Tasha Chambers, BHMVA museum director.
The exhibition is part of the “Life, Love & Liberty: Virginia’s Impact on a Nation” series of events taking place at the museum throughout Black History Month.
In addition to conversations about HIV/AIDS and the Black LGBTQ experience, the museum will host a program with Dr. Christine Darden, a female mathematician featured in the New York Times bestselling book “Hidden Figures” on Feb. 26 at 3 p.m.
DePillars exhibition runs through June 3.
A complete listing of events is below.
- Feb. 7 – United Voices: Raising Awareness through Song & Word: National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
United Voices will add a voice and face to those living with HIV/AIDS in the African-American community. In their own words, persons living with and affected by HIV/AIDS will share stories of triumph and overcoming adversity. Timing TBD; Free. Co-organized with Diversity Richmond.
- Feb. 10 – The Exclusive Blacklist
Enjoy wine from African-American wineries, hors d’oeuvres and jazz. 7 p.m.; $75.
- Feb. 15 – The Black LGBTQ Experience: Lecture and Dialogue with Dr. Ravi Perry
Dr. Perry will facilitate a discussion on the lived experiences of Black LGBTQ communities in the 21st century. 7 p.m.; Cost: Free. Co-organized with Diversity Richmond.
- Date TBA – A Floetic February Night
Experience art, soul and poetry. 7 p.m.; Admission to be announced.
- Feb. 23 – Dr. Paul Wallenstein Discussing Loving V. Virginia
A history professor at Virginia Tech and the author of “Tell the Court I Love My Wife: Race, Marriage, and Law—An American History,” Wallenstein will discuss the landmark civil rights decision Loving v. Virginia. 6 p.m.; Free.
- Feb. 26 – Hidden No More: Pioneering Black Women Mathematicians Tell Their Stories
Featured in the New York Times bestselling book “Hidden Figures” about the black female mathematicians at NASA during the late 1950s and early 1960s, Dr. Christine Darden did groundbreaking sonic boom research that is still used today. She worked at NASA for nearly 40 years. Darden will be joined by Estelle Amy Smith in a discussion with Richmond Times-Dispatch journalist Michael Paul Williams. 3 p.m.; Free.
People are encouraged to RSVP for the events at http://blackhistorymuseum.org/.
The museum, at 122 W. Leigh Street, is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday and on Sunday by appointment only.
Admission costs $10 for adults; $8 for seniors and students with IDs; $6 for children 4-12 years old; and children 2 and under are free.
Membership for the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia includes admission and starts at $35 per year.