Freedom rings in different ways to different people, and the latest exhibit at the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia in Richmond explores how that bell tolls.

“The Art of Freedom” exhibit shows the work of Virginia-based artists who—through their work—tell what freedom means to them, said Adele Johnson, the interim executive director of the museum.

“People think about freedom as rights that are given through legislation or the Constitution, but artists and other people look at freedom in a number of different ways, so it is wonderful to hear from them about freedom of spirit, freedom of thought, freedom of acts and freedom to share,” Johnson said. “Looking at freedom from different perspectives I think is important. Just like we look at any subject. It enlightens us. It shares new ideas with us.”

The exhibit showcases more than 60 works from 38 artists and includes acrylics, pastels, photographs, sculptures, quilts and pottery. The number of works and artists provides ample opportunity to explore the untold and nearly forgotten stories of African–Americans doing great things, she said.

Artists find the angles to tell those stories and help people contemplate the stories’ messages, Johnson said.

“Artists are special people. They think about things in a different way, and to learn about that and to hear it from them is just extremely interesting,” Johnson said. “I think this exhibition is, for us, an inspiration to both the artists as well as our visitors, and we want our visitors to think more about freedom.”

The exhibition also includes a unique way for people to share any thoughts they might have about the show or freedom.

“We have large sketch books in each one of the galleries that people can draw in, or write their feelings, or share their favorite quotes, and that’s because we want them to be able to capture their feeling right away, while they’re there.” Johnson said. “We always like to give people an opportunity to share their own feelings.”

Johnson said “The Art of Freedom” compliments the museum’s main exhibit that explores emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, civil rights and mass resistance.

People should allow a couple of hours to see the whole of the museum, where admission is $10 for adults and $8 for children, with discounts for seniors and groups, she said.

During the exhibit’s run, which lasts through April 27, there will be several forums for people to meet and talk with the artists.

Rondall James, a Fredericksburg-area print maker, who retired from Brooke Point High School in Stafford, has two pieces in the show, and will be a panelist at the Feb. 9 forum.

His clay print, “Rooted,” speaks of a young girl who remembers stories from her great-grandmother who was a slave.

The back story to James’ work “Powerful” speaks to a king’s son who is going through a rite of passage in an initiation of manhood where the men of the village give boys the tools that they need to become men both mentally and physically. The print shows a king’s son dressed for the ceremony that will introduce him to the village as a man.

James, who also taught at Courtland High School in Spotsylvania County, said keeping history relevant is important and that’s why he was pleased to show his work in the exhibit.

“I just think those stories are important to keep alive among the African–American community. I think, especially among the youth today, we can lose our history,” said James, who created his two pieces specifically for the show at the museum.

James said he’s looking forward to hearing people’s questions and talking about how his work relates to the show’s theme.

Johnson said she hopes the panel discussions give attendees a glimpse into the artists’ thinking and insights.

“They give another dimension to the experience of the exhibition,” Johnson said of the panel discussions. “We want people to be inspired by the exhibition.”

She also thinks the exhibit will spark conversations among the people who visit.

“I think it makes us open our minds to difference, open our minds to inclusivity, open our minds to the great things people are doing,” Johnson said.

James said he believes the caliber of the work will be a source of appreciation for people who see the show.

“I was just astounded at the quality of the work that the other artists were exhibiting. I just hope that we, as a group of artists, will continue to show together,” James said.

Mark Walker is a freelance writer from Stafford.

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