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Art Review – Resilience in Nature: We Are the Roses that Grew from the Concrete

Jeff Regensburger Jeff Regensburger Art Review – Resilience in Nature: We Are the Roses that Grew from the ConcreteBenjamin Crumpler | Paradise Regained #18 | 2021 | Acrylic, mixed media - All photos by Jeff Regensburger
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It’s been noted that one of the side effects of the pandemic has been the opportunity it’s provided to reconnect with nature. Many of us who have been navigating lockdowns, social distancing and a general disinclination to gather in large, crowded venues have found respite and renewal in the natural world. Whether visiting local parks, weekend camping trips, or simply spending more time in our own gardens, nature has taken center stage for much of the last year and a half.

Of course, the grim irony is that at the exact time so many of us are discovering the richness of the flora and fauna in our midst, we’re also bombarded with sobering news about the natural world and the impact human activity is having on it. In a report released earlier this month, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) took an unequivocal stance and warned of “irreversible changes and faster warming that will only be limited by immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

Nature, it would seem, needs all the help (and allies) it can get.

That’s why it’s so heartening to see exhibitions like Resilience in Nature: We Are the Roses that Grew from the Concrete being organized and supported. Currently on view at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, this exhibition strives to encourage a connection with the natural world while also highlighting the voices and perspectives of Black artists. In doing so, it showcases a wide variety of interpretations on the theme of nature, while illustrating the diversity in both the natural world and our community.

Curated by Queen Brooks, Richard Duarte Brown, Marshall Shorts, Bettye J. Stull and April Sunami, Resilience in Nature features artists both young and established working in a variety of mediums. 

Benjamin Crumpler’s Paradise Regained #18 presents an expansive field of flowers dappled with light and interlaced with translucent washes and delicate line work reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s shoe drawings. Like nature itself, Crumpler’s work rewards careful observation and looking closely at the details. In his artist’s statement, Crumpler offers the hopeful assertion that, “foliage and its companions are here to stay.”

Benjamin Crumpler | Paradise Regained #18 | 2021 | Acrylic, mixed media

Jasmine Hill packs a lot into her photograph Resurrected Fruit (the title being a nod to the famous Billie Holiday anti-lynching song Strange Fruit). Taking on America’s history of lynching young Black men as well as its relationship to photography, Hill crafts a decidedly new and more optimistic narrative. In Resurrected Fruit she redefines the relationship between young Black men and trees and offers a vision of hope for the future. Along with her photograph Resilient Tulip, Hill illustrates nature’s ability to spark wonder and reminds us that today’s young people may be nature’s best hope.

Jasmine Hill | Resurrected Fruit | 2021 | Digital photography

In Soul Sisters, Asya Shine makes literal the connection between humans and nature while highlighting the significance of braiding in Black history. Using kanekalon braiding hair and natural wheat, Shine crafts a pair of “portraits” that function as both abstractions, but also something very real. The richness of the deep blacks on a stark white background, along with the patterns of wheat and braids create a vivid, complex, and powerful presentation.

Asya Shine | Soul Sisters | 2021 | Kanekalon braiding hair, natural wheat

Honeycomb Collective, a striking mixed-media piece by Kenya Davis, is a rich blend of natural textures, colors, and shapes. Noting that while its organic patterns and materials are drawn from the natural world, the artist makes clear that our own communities were very much on her mind in this work. Davis writes in her statement, “…great care must be taken to preserve the nexus of transformative activity that takes place within our bustling neighborhoods to perpetuate the collective legacy of strength and hope.”

Kenya Davis | Honeycomb Collective | 2021 | Mixed media

That’s perhaps as good a summation of Resilience in Nature as we might encounter. It’s an exhibition that shares strength and shares hope and asks that we do the same. It connects us to nature, our communities and each other. We’ll need all of those connections and more as we move through the coming years.

Resilience in Nature: We Are the Roses that Grew From the Concrete is on view at the Frankling Park Conservatory and Botannical Gardens through November 28, 2021. For more information visit fpconservatory.org.

All photos by Jeff Regensburger

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