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Conversation with Danny Simmons: Art, Race and Culture

Posted April 17, 2017

Neo-African abstract expressional artist, Daniel “Danny” Simmons Jr, attended a Q&A for his new art exhibition “Hoppin’ the Hoodoo Express,” held at the Harlem School of the Arts, April 6th, 2017. Moderated by Brian Tate, the conference highlighted the importance of African culture along with race in the art community.

Simmons, the older brother of entrepreneur, Russell Simmons and Hip-Hop legend, Joseph “Rev Run” Simmons from rap group Run D.M.C, comes from a family of artists’ that has largely contributed to African-American culture. Simmons states the importance of persevering African/Black culture within in his art by explaining that he makes art not only for himself but for people of color. He expresses “I’m looking for a spiritual connection.”

The series consists of 10 pieces of Neo-African-inspired art. African fabrics and the repetitive appearance of dots within his paintings helped with the connection to spirituality and African culture within his artwork. When asked why the use of dots in his work, he describes the dots in his painting as “a point of spiritual focus.” Simmons also stresses that he does not use real African cloth in his paintings; stating “there are very few African fabrics that I’m going to cut up because they are pieces of art, in and of themselves”. The artist flawlessly combines the patterned fabrics and abstract drawings, creating a piece of work that appreciates historical African art and culture.

The discussion leads to the topic of race in the art world. Simmons touched on the role people of color play within many communities of expression and said that often people of color do not have access to express their art. Frustrated, Simmons states “Everyone talks about diversity, but no one really gives a damn but black people.” This lead to the creation of Rush Arts Gallery and Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, where he allowed artists of color to express themselves and share their art.

The conversation continued, scratching the surface of the issues with gentrification in New York and how it has affected art communities of color. Simmons states. “I didn’t feel the authentic Brooklyn anymore... wasn’t the inspirational Brooklyn that I had”. He moved to Philadelphia to further his artistic expression and acknowledges there are erasure and cultural appropriation happening in major art galleries such as the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Simmons creates a powerful collection of paintings and pours his consciousness and respect for African and Black culture within “Hoppin’ the Hoodoo” Express.

The exhibition will remain open to the public until May 27, 2017, at the Harlem School of the Arts.


Contributor:  Kibin Alleyne for Harlem One Stop


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