Bryan Wilson’s “Am I Chicken George? I Am Chicken George” was part of “Art of Soul!” in 2021 (photo courtesy of National Afro American Museum and Cultural Center)

‘Art of Soul!’ at National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center

This annual juried exhibition celebrates the Black experience with this art show featuring works in a variety of mediums built around the year’s theme. 

This annual juried exhibition presented by the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center in Wilberforce, home of the historically Black private college Wilberforce University, showcases a range of artists. In past years, works on display during “Art of Soul!” have ranged from paintings and drawings to mixed-media sculptures and found-object works.

On display this year from Oct. 15 through Feb. 25, 2023, the annual event exemplifies the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center’s goal of giving artists greater visibility.

“What we want to do is act as a platform for the voices of people who have been telling their stories already all this time,” says Hadley Drodge, curator for the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center. “We can be this centralized location for everybody to come and tell their stories.”  

Exhibition Origins: “Art of Soul!” grew from the National Afro-American Museum & Cultural Center’s 2009 “Soul!” exhibition, which showcased the museum’s protest-focused fine arts collection. Organizers created “Art of Soul!” to extend beyond protest art. “Of course, yes, we are going to point to the problems that we are facing today, but then we’re also saying what are the solutions and how we get out of that,” says Rosa Rojas, curatorial department manager and lead curator for “Art of Soul!” “We’re always looking at that little bit of light.”

Scope of Work: A panel of three independent judges selects the works featured. Each year’s exhibition is presented in subcategories that fall within a broader theme. The 2021 theme was “Black Future,” while the 2022 theme is “Black Love.” “We wanted to really bring out the hope and the inspiration and that’s another thing our museum really strives to do,” Rojas says.  

Freedom of Expression: Rojas adds that the core of the annual show is providing a platform for artists to unapologetically express themselves, be it through the message of their works or the medium in which they choose to convey them. That freedom results in a range of thought-provoking pieces. “How do you want to express yourself? … This is the place for you to do that,” Rojas says. “This exhibit now is really an expansion of that.” 

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