Let me put my shawl on as I write this because cool is an understatement – This was the “coldest” art exhibition I’ve seen in years. (Definitely the coldest since the Ashes and Snow exhibition). It was actually life altering. Life altering in that this exhibition caused a reawakening and transported the viewer back to a period way beyond Black nostalgia. This show was the perfect reflection of Black Pride and it captured the conflicting beauty that Black American culture represented during a time of turmoil, oppression, confusion, and celebration. As I said, the artist takes you way beyond Black nostalgia. His journey starts before the “free age” of 70’s and takes you through the “get money” clouded days of the late eighties, where somewhere in the haze, climbing the social ladder began to rob people of their self- identities, flare and lust for life. Looking at Barkley’s work immediately took me back to my childhood when I admired my grandmother, grand-aunt’s and mother’s impeccable style (a style my grandmother and grand-aunt still have to this day). I recalled that during those times, it wasn’t necessary for there to be a special occasion in order for you to express yourself through your individual style using vibrant colors, rich patterns, and luscious fabrics. I knew that the skirt that “Sweet Thang/Lynn Jenkins” had on while lounging on the corduroy couch was amazing, and that a serious effort was made to capture every detailed fiber in the garment even when the subjects wore all white or all black. You were able to see the rich texture that differentiated the luxurious fur from the white woven wool suite it draped over.
As an artist and a fashion connoisseur, this show burrowed deep into my soul. The leather platform sandals atop the rich texture of the linen canvas added to the overall texture of the paintings. I was done!!! Throw me in the kiln, cremate me, and send me to heaven. They are so many light filled moments in this show, I absolutely recommend that you see it. The rich tones and variety that people of color always offer the world, Barkley captured lovingly for his people. When required to critique art as a master student in graduate school it was always difficult because I’d s say “Fu$% the technical things” and concentrate directly on how the works of art made me feel. In this case, with this artist, I was inspired beyond time and matter!