Harlem Takes a Trip North for Art Lovers

As Martha's Vineyard hosts the Harlem Fine Arts Show, the founder and artists tell us their stories.

HFAS founder Dion Clarke addresses attendees.
HFAS founder Dion Clarke addresses attendees.

(The Root) — Harlem Fine Arts Show founder Dion Clarke has a thing for the classics; his personal collection boasts works from Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett and other legendary African-American artists.

“But I also have a sweet spot for the emerging artist, the artist that needs a little nurturing,” he said in an interview with The Root at the 2012 HFAS exhibition in Martha’s Vineyard, held Aug. 9 to Aug. 12. The Root is a sponsor of the show.

His desire to marry the “well-established” with the “up-and-coming” prompted him to create the Harlem Fine Arts Show in New York City. What started as a small multicultural arts festival, according to Clarke, has grown into one of the biggest multicultural art shows in the U.S. Now, entering its fourth year, HFAS has been brought by Clarke to Martha’s Vineyard, a locale known for its popularity among affluent African Americans for decades.

“I’ve been coming here for 30 years, and we’ve never had anything like this before in the history of African-American presence on the Vineyard,” Henry Louis Gates Jr., editor-in-chief of The Root, said in an interview on the show’s opening night.

More than 30 artists and hundreds of attendees congregated en masse at Hooked Restaurant in the Oak Bluffs section of the island, selling and purchasing black art from various traditions, disciplines and perspectives. From sculpted, clay, steel, metal and glass works to expressionist oil paintings to revisionist chalk drawings, there is no shortage of variety in fine black art at this year’s event.

Geographical diversity also featured prominently in this year’s show. Artists traveled from every corner of the continental U.S., and French and Kenyan artists were among the international representations. Kenyan-born artist and curator Gathinja Yamokoski, owner of TrueAfricanArt.com, collects art exclusively made by African artists. Currently, she holds art from eight different countries, works she describes as bright and heavily steeped in various African traditions. Showcasing her art and the work of other artists from across the Atlantic at HFAS is an opportunity not lost on her, understanding the importance of showcasing on an island with such a rich African-American tradition.