Local artists Yusuf Lateef and James Dickerson, aka dirtykics, have collaborated on a one-of-a-kind exhibition now at Maumee Valley Country Day School. Lateef, cofounder of Radiant City Arts, a for-profit collective that emphasizes arts education, is a visual arts instructor at the Toledo School for the Arts. Dickerson is a street photographer whose recent themes include stark, candid photos and portraiture. The pair’s work is on display at the Wolfe Gallery through February 26.
We asked both artists about the other’s work and anticipated attendee take aways from the exhibition.
How did this collaborative exhibition come together?
Yusuf: I answered an open call for submissions from the Wolfe Gallery and got the go-ahead. I wanted it to be a collaborative experience so I reached out to James. We’ve been collaborating since 2016, so it seemed like a natural addition.
James: Yusuf put me on to MVCD’s gallery, they were looking for artists to display. It makes you look at yourself differently when you see your work in a place of observation.
How does your collaboration “work”, from an artistic and/or aesthetic perspective?
Yusuf: We have different ways of working and seeing, but I believe we share a common philosophy. We are both looking for a language that highlights a greater social reality, expanding beyond the material norms. The space between intuitive and empirical facts creates a platform from which to build. For example, James shot staged portraits but in the development of the photographs, a more intuitive way of working takes over. He creates these beautiful double exposures. I draw constantly so it is nothing for me to create a picture, but when you draw directly on a wall with India ink, without a plan, there is a risk. It develops a trust that redirects the viewer’s experience from judgment to investigation. The installation of our work together allows for personal and universal narratives.
James: We vibe off of people. My work as a street and portrait photographer, and his work, as a painter first and mixed media artist second, worked because of years of micro-collaborations. I think there’s harmony in what we do because of mutual admiration and trust. When I see one of his pieces, I want to literally steal it off the wall. Then I reflect on that idea and how I want someone to have the same vibe about my own work, and I think (Yusuf) does (have similar feelings about my work).
How did you choose the pieces for the show?
Yusuf: We brought our works to the gallery and allowed them to speak to one another. James knows many of his subjects and their stories. Using my work, we were able to illustrate them. There are also these cool photo-Obscura boxes that James created in partnership with artist Anthony McCarty. It came together while in conversation, very organically. Also, no set number of works, or particular pieces, were pre-determined. We let the space guide our decisions.
James: It just happened. I opened my doors to volunteers (as subjects) for the portraits. It was a dope experience because none of these folks had to do this, but they wanted to. It was beautiful and even though I couldn’t use everyone’s photo due to budget, the work was still loved for what we did.
What do you hope that viewers take away from the exhibition, especially those who have not seen your work before?
Yusuf: I think a takeaway for me is that I want the viewer to have a moment — I think that is why we do these exhibitions — a space for reflection on one’s own existence. The art acts as a spot or point of reference. It’s like a dancer or figure skater who is spinning and must focus on a stationary point to keep themselves from getting dizzy. This world is moving at such a fast pace. News and information comes at us at an unmanageable rate, and there is no time to process it. There is value in stillness and the opportunity to ponder something that is outside of our daily routine.
James: I think we’re in a period where black artists showing range is no longer a concept built for small platforms. We, and others, have a greater opportunity to advance a segment of our culture, if it is delivered in the right way. Our exhibit is about removing bias and truly seeing through the eyes of others. This is the beginning of an experiment that will expand. I hope it does something for those that have seen it, and are able to discuss it with friends and family. It’s definitely something out of my element and I’m proud of that.
On view through February 26.
Maumee Valley Country Day School Wolfe Gallery
1715 S. Reynolds Rd. | 419-381-1313
Mvcds.org | Free