African American Cultural Committee presents two films
Jacqueline Cofield at Elizabeth Catlett’s home and studio in Cuernavaca, Mexico. COURTESY JACQUELINE COFIELD/J RÊVE INTERNATIONAL

African American films and forum
Thursday, Feb. 22, 7 p.m.

MAM’s African American Cultural Committee will screen segments from “In Search of the Light” and “The Art of the Journey–The Ben Jones Story.”
Montclair Art Museum, 3 South Mountain Ave.
Montclairartmuseum.org
973-746-5555

“In Search of the Light” shown in its entirety, and “The Art of the Journey.”
Saturday, Feb. 24, 1 p.m.
Montclair Public Library, 50 S. Fullerton Ave.
Montclairlibrary.org

By LARK LO
For Montclair Local

African-American artists often find they are more free from racism abroad than in the United States, according to the International Review of African American Art, Vol. 21.

James Baldwin said in the 1989 film “The Price of the Ticket,” in an interview with Maya Angelou, “Once you find yourself in another civilization you’re forced to examine your own.”

Two films presented this month by the Montclair Art Museum’s African American Cultural Committee explore this situation. On Feb. 22, there will be a panel discussing two films, and on Feb. 24, the films will be screened in their entirety at the Montclair Public Library.

Senegal-based Jacqueline Cofield’s “In Search of the Light” (2013) and West Orange’s William M. Barbee’s “The Art of the Journey (2016) — The Ben F. Jones Story” both focus on African-American artists who live abroad.

The cultural committee’s focus “is to strengthen the collection of African-American art and artists at the museum,” said William S. Jiggetts, chair of the committee. Montclair, according to the last U.S. Census, is 27 percent African-American, with the south end 40 percent to 50 percent African-American.

The panel on the 22nd will include art collector Mary Anne Rose Gentry (widow of Herb  Gentry, expressionist painter, who appears in “In Search of the Light”),  artist Nanette Carter, artist and cultural committee co-founder Ben F. Jones, artist Ayana V Jackson and filmmaker Jacqueline Cofield. It will be moderated by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charisse Jones.

“The Art of the Journey” is a biography that shows how Ben F. Jones became an artist and looks at his “Afrofuturism meets abstract expressionism art” process.

It highlights how he has used his “artivism” to elevate public awareness of such political issues as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 and the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin.

“In Search of the Light” is a documentary, shot in seven countries (U.S., France, Italy, Spain, England, Mexico and the Netherlands)  that interviews leading African-American artists abroad. Among them is the late master printmaker and sculptor Elizabeth Catlett and abstract mixed media painter Nanette Carter, daughter of Montclair’s first African-American mayor, Matthew G. Carter.

Nanette Carter, Jiggetts said, is back in Montclair and has a solo show, “An Act of Balance,” at the Skoto Gallery in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood.   

When the African American Cultural Committee was founded, “there wasn’t much focus on African-American art or artists at the museum,” Jiggetts said.

The committee was founded 30 years ago by artist Ben F. Jones (not the artist in the feature); by Montclair native and artist Janet Taylor Pickett, who lives in California; and by Montclair writer Valerie Wilson Wesley.

That is changing. The last three major acquisitions by the Montclair Art Museum have been by African-American artists.

“The committee has done a fine job of making sure there is no lack of attention to African-American artists of major significance. Janet Taylor Pickett is huge. Mickalene Thomas is huge. Kara Walker is huge. Nick Cave is definitely having a moment,” Jiggetts said.

Kara Walker’s “Virginia’s Lynch Mob” (1998) is the most expensive single piece the museum has ever acquired.

Montclair’s African-American community has long been supportive of the arts, according to an article by Patricia Hampson Eget, “Challenging Containment: African Americans and Racial Politics in Montclair” in the “New Jersey History Journal.” 

“There is a very strong, active, relatively affluent African-American community in Montclair and they are culturally active,” Jiggetts said. “There is a great support for the arts. That is why this committee exists. The community isn’t an art community, but it is a community of art supporters.

“The films are amazingly interesting and have a local relevance — both of the films have a lot of connections to Montclair — and many artists that the committee has worked with and appreciated have lived abroad and grew up right here in New Jersey.”