The Independent (USA)

Art exhibit and panel rocks Wildlife West Nature Park's historic Bean Barn

- By Jo White

Often when you live in the country in a small town, you only get to see expressive art on television, perhaps PBS. Recently, Edgewood was given a gift of viewing unique art, by an artist who will not have her sight for long.

The Independen­t newspaper has a gallery wall space, Independar­t, and brought artist Chloé Duplessis to exhibit her traveling show, called “Negro Stories.” Due to the subject matter, a panel of locals was brought in to the Bean Barn for a conversati­on about ethnicity and culture. If you want to see it, visit the newspaper's Facebook page.

Duplessis is a contempora­ry artist working in digital collage, using various tools to define not just line, color, or conventual tone, according to her website.

Based in history and stories of real people, her intention is to “bring history, culture and healing” to the subject of “Negro Stories.”

The show, hung by Chloé's husband Shaun Duplessis, was a perfect backdrop for Ms. Duplessis’ lecture.

Collected by Chloé, the art shows stories that are at first uncomforta­ble, and yet stark in their reality. How do you get to the point of discussion on a subject not often spoken of? Join hands in a meal; you eat.

“Food is better blessed when shared” has always been a motto of this historic Pinto Bean Barn and we continued the tradition. As the audience came into the Bean Barn to see the art, New Mexico hospitalit­y was doled out in the form of posole, tortillas, cake, cold lemonade, tea and coffee, prepared and served by yours truly. As a former teacher and cook for the barn, I had the aid of Zoe Duplessis, age four, who guarded the cake like the Swiss Guards do the Pope. When the crowd was full and the drinks replenishe­d, the storytelli­ng, in the form of a talk and panel discussion, began.

Raised in Louisiana, one of the most diverse states in our country, Chloé traveled with her family when her stepfather was in the military, which took them all the way to Alaska. That is where “Negro Stories” started for Ms. Duplessis, a long way from the South where she was born. It seems prejudice can take many forms.

You might ask, “How can someone be cruel to a 5-year-old child?”

Chloé told the tale of each photo with simplicity and honesty, starting with a piece about the first time she was called the n-word, at age 5. Some of the stories would melt your heart to realize such inhumanity could still exist.

Questions from the audience were welcomed and answered lovingly and concisely, followed by a slight break for the discussion panel to get settled. Zoe did such a good job; she had the first piece of cake, and it went fast. With sugar galore to put the brain cells going, the stage was set with five members to speak to the issues and examine the replies. From Albuquerqu­e, the owner of Q’s Cakes, Queneesha Meyers, joined the forum followed by our artist in residence, Tracey Master, Chaplain for first responders, and volunteer with Moriarty Lions and Rotary. The next two gentlemen were friends from being neighbors and who sit on the opposite side of the issues: Rick Lopez, Chair to Torrance County Republican Party and former Vice Chair of state Republican­s, and Augustine Montoya, active in Torrance County and state Democratic Party, and former candidate for Torrance County commission.

Questions were submitted to the hostess of the event, Leota Harriman of The Independen­t. With grace and civility all inquiries were discussed, even as emotions ran high as many contribute­d to this discussion. All have issues and they were brought out and explored.

I added my two cents by saying I ran the African American club at Cleveland Middle School for 14 years. If you were interested in the culture and history, you could join. It worked for me and the students learned together. Face it, I gave them cookies and pop. It worked.

People share a lot over cookies or cake, and I will remember an evening of kindness and examinatio­n. “Zoe, in times to come, remember the Mouse, I won’t forget you!”

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