Through paintings, poems and photos, Black artists tell their stories in Bridgeport

Through paintings, poems and photos, Black artists tell their stories in Bridgeport

For some, reading might be an escape from reality but for artist Larry Morse reading

For some, reading might be an escape from reality but for artist Larry Morse reading is the answer of the social issues affecting the reality of Black men. 

“How [do] we figure and calculate a next step to surviving and dwelling in a culture that clearly does not see us in totally? My answer is reading. Especially in a sense of pursuing the historic realities as to explain better how things are today,” said Morse. 

Morse’s idea is embodied in a collection of paintings called “Black Men Reading” which is currently being shown at Bridgeport’s City Lights Gallery“Absorption and Reflection,” was curated by Morse and showcases his collection of paintings as well as the works of two local artists:

Adger Cowans is a fine arts photographer,  who has had a successful career as a film still photographer working with film directors like Francis Ford Coppola (“Cotton Club”) and Spike Lee (“School Daze”). Born in Ohio, Cowans’ work has been shown in The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Harvard Fine Art Museum.

Iyaba Ibo Mandingo was born in Antigua and moved to Connecticut at a young age. Currently a Bridgeport resident, Ibo Mandingo was awarded a grant to pursue a community-based project last October

The exhibit will be on view until March 17. 

Larry Morse’s paintings of the collection “Black Men Reading” presented at City Lights Gallery’s “Absorption and Reflection” exhibit on Feb. 20, 2022. 

Adriana Morga/ Hearst Connecticut Media

Though they have different styles, techniques, ages and life stories, these three artists show their own appreciation for reading. Morse through his paintings, Cowans through his new photography book and Ibo Mandingo through his poetry. 

As an addition to his collection “Black Men Reading,” Morse added three new paintings of himself and his fellow artists — Ibo Mandingo and Cowans — for this exhibit. Morse is also showcasing his collection “Fond Memories,” which are paintings based on abstract sculptures that he builds. This collection is inspired by the artist’s younger memories with his father, according to Morse. 

A Vietnam veteran, Morse attended the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and worked for many years as a teacher and a taxi driver in New York City, where he currently resides. His work has been shown around Connecticut including the Easton Public Library and Carol Peck’s Good News Cafe & Gallery in Woodbury

Larry Morse, curator of the exhibit "Absorption and Reflection" that showcased several of his paintings including his collection "Black Men Reading," on the artists' reception at City Lights Gallery on Feb. 20, 2022. 

Larry Morse, curator of the exhibit “Absorption and Reflection” that showcased several of his paintings including his collection “Black Men Reading,” on the artists’ reception at City Lights Gallery on Feb. 20, 2022. 

Adriana Morga/ Hearst Connecticut Media

Contrasting with the bright colors of Morse, Ibo Mandingo’s art is completely black. With large textured black-on-black mixed media, Ibo Mandingo is honoring his roots. 

“What inspires my art is a social message but also this connection with Africa that I have,” said Ibo Mandingo. In his work’s description, he mentions how western society has given the word “black” a negative connotation with phrases such as “black sheep” and how, for people of African descent, reclaiming the word becomes a political statement. Ibo Mandingo’s art presents all-black abstract figures with titles such as “Another Black Man Was Killed Today” and “Stolen Artifacts.” 

“It’s the idea of value and texture, and how this can cast a shadow and this is how you’re looking at something that is technically all black but you can still see texture, value and depth,” said Ibo Mandingo. 

Iyaba Ibo Mandingo, Bridgeport-based artist, at the reception of "Absorption and Reflection" at City Lights Gallery on Feb. 20, 2022.   

Iyaba Ibo Mandingo, Bridgeport-based artist, at the reception of “Absorption and Reflection” at City Lights Gallery on Feb. 20, 2022. 

 

Adriana Morga/ Hearst Connecticut Media

Along with his paintings and sculptures, Ibo Mandingo has authored three books of poetry titled “41 Times,” “Amerikkan Exile” and “40 days & 40 nites of write.” After the reception, Ibo Mandingo performed “unFramed,” and autobiographical piece that visit a series of memories of his life as an artist and poet. 

He credits his love and inspiration for art to his grandparents, a tailor and a seamstress, and the teachers that encouraged him to paint and write when he was growing up.

Along with the artists’ work, the gallery’s room functions as a reading room where visitors can read books from the artists. Among those books is the latest photography book by Adger Cowans titled “Adger.” 

Adger Cowans. Bridgeport-based photographer, at the reception of "Absorption and Reflection" at City Lights Gallery on Feb. 20, 2022.   

Adger Cowans. Bridgeport-based photographer, at the reception of “Absorption and Reflection” at City Lights Gallery on Feb. 20, 2022. 

 

Adriana Morga/ Hearst Connecticut Media

“All the pages are black and there are no writings underneath the photographs. I want people to deal with the photograph,” said Cowens. “Adger” was published this year by 21st Editions and is a compilation of Cowen’s life work as a photographer. He currently resides in Bridgeport and has a solo exhibit at Fairfield University that features his photography showcased in his most recent book. 

After the gallery reception, poetry and spoken word event were hosted at the Bijou Theatre where Morse, Ibo Mandingo and other poets performed on Feb. 20. 

Based on each of the artists’ life stories and art, Morse hopes to inspire the audience to achieve their own goals. 

“There is a chance to overcome adversity just purely through the art itself, just visually taking in the art. The brightness that I have signifies a hopefulness,” said Morse.