Art Aiming to Transform an Atlanta Community
In the second gallery, I dragged a chair to a corner in the room. Reluctantly, I stepped on the furniture. I thought to myself, “My mother would be mortified.” However, I was the only one mortified as I came face-to-wall with an interactive piece of art. A black wall confronted visitors with an invitation for them to write five things they know and five things they wish they didn’t know. There were typical blanket statements about racism and poverty, but there were also intimately personal revelations like the writing in florescent blue ink towards the top left of the wall which read, “I know I’m vengeful.”
Located in the Edgewood community of Atlanta at 439 Edgewood Avenue S.E., Number 101, U*Space is a different kind of gallery. Through the art work on display, its owner, Terence Jackson, challenges members of the community to take a hard look at themselves. Community art galleries seldom attract reviewers or collectors. Many don’t last long. Few are profitable. (None are prestigious, unless you count Chicago’s 70-plus year-old Southside Community Art Center, which during its formative WPA years nurtured now-renowned master artists.) But Jackson’s business is not about profit or prestige or serving as an incubator for prodigies. As people pass by his nook of a gallery, Jackson wants them to stop suddenly and say, “I just saw myself sitting in the window.”
He explains his non-elitist perception of a business that has traditionally served an elite clientele: “I’m very, very leery of anything that makes me feel like someone is being excluded. Like someone is being caged off somewhere. My mindset always jumps forward from the history of us being brought here to America.”
Refusing to hang copies of paintings on his wall, he’s adamant about not reducing quality in his service to common people. “We don’t do any prints, and the reason we don’t do any prints is because to me that’s such a ‘you’re not good enough for my original’ attitude, which translates to me in the history of blacks in America as you aren’t good enough.”
Experiences with Beauty
My first visit to U*Space Gallery was in the summer of 2011. I stood next to a robust, pale skinned woman with mango-scented dreadlocks. Turning to me, she asked, “What kind of newspaper is this?” It was an issue of the The Black Panther: a Black Community News Service tabloid which sold for 25 cents in the 1960s and ’70s. The exhibit in the gallery on this warm night was Terence Jackson’s personal, rare print memorabilia collection. There were over 200 pieces, including books, magazines, essays and newspapers.
Prints this time, not originals, yes, because as U*Space reaches further out to Everyman, it’s no longer an art gallery in any conventional sense, but a kitschy, anti-art space for Jackson’s personal collections. The apparent self- indulgence of these personal displays vanishes when he explains his perspective. For example, his first 2012 exhibit was a display of vintage racist postcards depicting the mammy and the happy coon stereotypes. At best, the tutored eye might see this show as a form of folk installation art, not indulgence. But Jackson’s explanation of his curatorial vision reveals a backhandedly progressive view -- a renegade aesthetic: “These are beautiful images of us,” Jackson says. “Some of our women do have big butts and big lips, and our men have big noses and the widest of grins. Are we supposed to tell our people that look like this that they aren’t beautiful?” It is political, but most importantly, beautiful to the colored soul. As Toni Morrison says, “The best art is unquestionably political and irrevocably beautiful at the same time.”
I once took a date to a U*Space exhibit that included a pig made of black trash bags and black wire clothes hangers. I thought it beautiful. There was something about it that “moved around in my unconsciousness yet, nevertheless, it is you,” as Jackson puts it. These pigs were created by women refugees from the continent of Africa. They crafted these works of art from discarded material as a means to provide for their families and, just as important, to nourish their souls and build their self esteem.
While there is always art lining the shelves and walls -- and even ceiling and floor -- of U*Space, about four special exhibits are mounted every year. Ex-pos-ure: New Directions in the Mediums of Sight and Sound opened April 6 and ran through April 29. “There will be no paintings, there will just be all these monitors and all these video players,” Jackson had said before that exhibit. He admits he is pushing the envelope for an art space catering to people who are not connoisseurs of contemporary art. And with his international cast of video and sound artists, he does wonder if he is pushing it too far. “Most of these films are not traditional stories. They are nonlinear,” he explains. Jackson goes beyond the norm out of love. “Even though someone may say, ‘That really hurt,’ they turn right around and say they really love you for it.”
This is exactly what happened after I came back to the main gallery from writing on the wall in the second gallery. The interaction had spoken to my colored soul and made me take a look at myself. This is precisely the type of art Jackson is in the business of exposing to the Edgewood community -- art that is by nature not fine, but is instead transformative and experiential.
A Visitation of Spirits
Visit terenceejackson.com, and stapled at the top of the page is the phrase, “Visionary Multimedia Artist”. The Detroit native, who once spent time in the United States Air Force, is not tooting his own horn; he is simply stating his self-worth and letting art patrons know his craft. Terence E. Jackson is not only the owner of U*Space, a safe haven for developing artists, he is an artist in his own right who pursues many artistic endeavors such as: film-making, singing, playwriting and visual arts.
Forgoing collegiate education after a year at Wayne State University, Jackson moved to Turkey some time afterwards, giving him the opportunity to indulge in art outside of his native community. Jackson’s credits include working with the art-rock band, Harper Fragment, plus New York's Urban Arts Society and North Side Crew. In Atlanta, he has been involved with the High Museum, the Gussie Gallery, Werehausen Art Space, the Red Light Gallery, the 800 East and SAME experimental spaces as well as the Atlanta Gay and Lesbian Arts Festival.
On September 7, 2012, Jackson will host his own exhibit, A Visitation of Spirits. Part II of A Visitation of Spirits begins September 23. Part I will be primarily composed of visual artistry, while Part II will be a multimedia exhibit using deconstructed audio. Jointly, the two exhibits seek to initiate a discussion within the audience about the concepts of organized religion and of gender identity.