Artist Sabrina Nelson Celebrates James Baldwin’s 99th Birthday with ‘Frontline Prophet: James Baldwin’




Sabrina Nelson, James Baldwin You + Understand. Image courtesy Omo Misha

 An exhibition of more than forty unique interpretations of James Baldwin created by Detroit-based artist, Sabrina Nelson, opened at New York’s Interchurch Center on July 12, 2023 and continues through August 31, 2023. The exhibit – Frontline Prophet: James Baldwin includes sketchbooks, drawings, paintings, installations and mixed media compositions developed by the artist over an intensive seven-year study period and has been co-curated by Ashara Ekundayo and Harlem’s Omo Misha. Frontline Prophet ushers in Baldwin’s centennial and will travel to seven U.S. cities and Paris through August 2024. An artist reception and artist talk with take place at The Interchurch Center on Wednesday, August 2, 2023 – Baldwin’s 99th birthday. 

 Nelson has immersed herself in the subject of Baldwin since attending “A Language to Dwell In,” a James Baldwin conference in Paris, France in 2016. There, she accompanied Michigan poets and creatives Jessica care Moore, Melba Joyce Boyd, and Magdalena J. Zaborowska, and audited lectures and performances while creating live art at the conference. Not having recalled reading Baldwin in high school, among other required reading, the artist sought to learn as much as she could on the way to, and during the conference. She devoured the great writer’s speeches and books and embarked upon a year-long study that resulted in a total of 91 drawings.

Sabrina Nelson, Interchurch Center installation view. Image courtesy Omo Misha

Nelson has since filled multiple sketchbooks with Baldwin images, ink renderings, writings, and musings, adding large-format paintings and mixed media compositions, as well as visual collaborations with poets and writers, to develop the current exhibition.

Sabrina Nelson, James Baldwin. Image courtesy Omo Misha

“I drew my first image of Baldwin while scholar, Rich Blint, spoke and I felt Baldwin’s presence in that room physically and spiritually,” Nelson shared. “The drawings became a way to baptize myself in the essence of Baldwin, as his words and expressions connected deeply with how I felt the world was treating its dwellers who are Black and Brown…In 2023, the words still ring true.” Through this exhibition she communicates the multi-facets of James – his intellect, his humanity, his joy, his inspiration, and representations of some of those whom he inspired.

Sabrina Nelson, Interchurch Center Installation. Image courtesy Omo Misha

Sabrina Nelson has been a professional interdisciplinary artist for over 37 years, exhibiting throughout the United States and in Paris, France. She works in a range of media and styles – from painting, drawing and sculpture, to art installations, performances and collaborations. Nelson is also an educator, lecturer, and ‘artivist’—using her art as a medium for activism. For more than two decades, she has held professional appointments with the College for Creative Studies, College of Art & Design in Arts Administration and the Detroit Institute of Arts Education Department. She has taught African American Art History at CCS and Oakland University, served on the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp faculty and as guest curator for the Carr Center and the Detroit Music Hall Performing Arts Center. She is a 2021-2022 Kresge Arts Fellow and earned her BFA in Fine Arts from CCS in 1991. Nelson and her work have been featured extensively in the media, including on PBS in 2020 & 2022.

Sabrina Nelson, James Baldwin You + Understand. Image courtesy Omo Misha

Co-curators, Ashara Ekundayo and Omo Misha are practiced creative allies of Nelson’s who are committed to sharing this exhibition around the world. Ekundayo is a Detroit and Oakland CA based cultural worker and curator and the founder of the international philanthropic platform Artist As First Responder and the principal at AECreative Consulting Partners, LLC. Her creative practice is rooted in joy-informed pedagogies and the study and creation of Black archives, site-responsive ceremony, and artist-based strategies that illuminate the specific expertise of Black womxn of the African Diaspora.

Sabrina Nelson, James Baldwin. Image courtesy Omo Misha

A Detroit and New York-based curator and arts administrator, Omo Misha has served as curator for numerous New York institutions, including City College Center for the Arts and manages Detroit’s Irwin House Gallery. Since 1960,

Sabrina Nelson, Interfaith Installation view. Image courtesy Omo Misha

The Interchurch Center has been a visible symbol of the oneness of many churches in Christ and reflective of the inspiring growth of ecumenism and inter-religious activity. It is currently home to 70 faith-based, humanitarian, and educational organizations and serves the arts through its Treasure Room Gallery and public display and communion spaces.

Sabrina Nelson, Interchurch Installation view. Image courtesy Omo Misha

 Frontline Prophet: James Baldwin is on view from July 12 – August 31, 2023 at The Interchurch Center, 61 Claremont Ave., New York, NY 10115. Hours of operation are Monday-Friday 9-5 pm. The Pre-centennial Reception and Artist Talk will take place on Wednesday, August 2, 2023 from 5:00-8:00 pm. Reception info HERE. 

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