Since 1906, King Street Station has served as a gateway to the Pacific Northwest. More than a century later, it’s still fulfilling the original mission through the “Truth B Told” art exhibition. The collection of work from more than 50 artists of African descent offers a portal into diverse viewpoints. “Truth” combines the work of emerging, experienced and internationally known professional artists, including Barbara Earl Thomas and Marita Dingus.
“I think it’s an incredible show, especially to be here in Seattle in the Northwest,” Dingus said. “This is good. I think people from all over should come see this show because you’re not going to have this opportunity to see so many Black artists. Not in the Seattle area. These folks you would never see because they don’t have gallery representation.”
The third-floor space is brimming with the work of talented artists meeting art styles from abstract to impressionism. More than 150 pieces of art in the show cover a wide range of mediums: paintings, sculptures, stained glass, found-object art, a video presentation and installations.
The Nkondi, a religious figure originating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, inspired Marita Dingus’ “The Gathering.” Nkondi is used to call upon the spirit world to help with conflict resolution and also serves as an avenger. The three oversized figures, two women and a man, sit in a circle and represent a family unit. Dingus used a copper wire, contact lens cases, 35mm film and other found objects to craft their bodies.
“Everything is stuff people gave me,” Dingus said. “It’s made out of all kinds of discarded materials.”
Vincent Keele has a series of vivid zebra paintings on display. One painting is a close-up of the animal’s nose and in another the zebra is looking over its shoulder and casting a knowing gaze. In three separate paintings titled “Truth Be Told,” Yadesa Bojia depicts Black men in mugshots. Their crime? Being Black. The placard they are holding goes beyond the traditional headline. The men are more than just their race, they are also a father, activist, artist and humanitarian.
Across from Dingus’ art is the installation “Letter to a Laundress,” a series of Library of Congress photos hanging from a clothes line. They show Black women who worked as “washer women” from the late 1880s to 1930s. Artist Carletta Carrington Wilson became interested in washer women because her great-great grandmother was one.
“It’s really a document of this progression. First of the technology but also the work,” Wilson said. “The washer women were coming off these plantations and they still up until the ’30s were doing this work where they took in wash or they went to someone’s house and did the work there.”
The words “wash,” “soak,” “rub,” “press” and “boil” hang in between the black-and-white photos. Some of the women are former slaves; in one photo, a young child is scrubbing clothes on a washboard — a harsh reality of the times. Wilson also discovered the difference between a wash woman and a laundress.
“The understory of ‘Letter to a Laundress’ is that post-Emancipation after 1865 there was an uptick in lynchings in the South and the North,” Wilson said. “These women probably had washed the clothes of someone they had either heard or knew or were related to someone who was lynched because it was so predominant after enslavement all the way up to 20th century.”
After a recent talk about her work, an older soft-spoken woman confirmed her hypothesis. The woman said her great-great grandmother was a wash woman and the family she worked for lynched her husband. When visitors find out the backstory to Wilson’s work, the reaction is strong.
“It’s one thing to look at the images but once you understand the story behind it then it’s very sobering,” Wilson said. “I’ve had more than one person cry. They cry when I get to the lynch part because that is a surprise.”
This is the 12th annual exhibit for Onyx Fine Arts, an organization working toward raising the visibility of artists of African descent in the PNW. The group offers a supportive environment to its members.
“The emerging artists get to hang on the wall with the experienced artists. It causes them to be challenged. It causes them to raise their game,” artist and board member Ashby Reed said. “A lot of them have grown with us from show to show.”
The show also serves another purpose. It’s a way to combat the cultural notion of the Black exception, where the talents of only one or two Black people in a given field are recognized.
“There are lots of us. There are lots of different stories from lots of different perspectives. We are a diverse people,” Onyx board member Preston Hampton said. “Some of us may have been rich, some of us may have been poor, most of in between. And so those are all different stories we have to tell and it shouldn’t be limited.”
What: “Truth B Told,” Onyx Fine Arts annual exhibition
Where: Third floor, King Street Station, 303 S. Jackson St, Seattle
When: Fridays 3 – 8 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays Noon – 6 p.m. until Feb. 4