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The Kinsey African American Art and History Collection, one of the largest and most prestigious private collections of African American art, will exhibit at The Gathering Place and the Greenwood Cultural Center beginning in May through July 2021.
Kinsey collection adds representation to African American history
Owners and curators of the world-renowned collection, Mr. Bernard Kinsey and his son, Khalil Kinsey, met with local artists on Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. inside the Love and Harmony exhibit in the Boathouse of Tulsa’s The Gathering Place.
The Kinseys discussed admiration for Tulsa’s Black artists. They spoke on the importance of representation by telling the stories of African Americans through art.
“What they’re gonna see is Black people in primary source documents that shows proof positive that we were here and we matter,” Mr. Bernard Kinsey told the Black Wall St. Times regarding what Tulsans can expect to experience from the upcoming collection. “That’s 99 percent of what we do as a family.”
Kinsey collection featured across the world
Growing up in West Palms Beach, Florida, Mr. Kinsey met his wife at Florida A&M, where he was on the marching band. The tradition appears to run in the family as his father also attended Florida A&M. Mr. Bernard Kinsey said his father’s record as an early Civil Rights leader inspired him to pursue a path that illuminates the untold stories of African American contributions.
“The Kinsey collection has been in 31 cities around the world. We’ve been seen by 15 million people. We have objects dating from 1595 of African Americans in the United states…Paintings that date from 1865,” Kinsey said.
Surrounded by a trio of local artists, each with their own style and voice, Mr. Bernard Kinsey’s son, Khalil highlighted the motivations for violence against successful Black communities.
“There was a reason [White mobs burnt down Black Wall Street in 1921]. It was the power that we possessed,” Khalil Kinsey said. He pointed out the importance of understanding our own history. He also highlighted the power that comes with that knowledge and the need for artists to spread it in creative ways.
“We have to translate it in a lot of different ways so people feel it,” Khalil Kinsey said.
The three artists who attended the private event with the Kinseys shared their experiences developing their craft and their styles as well as the reception they’ve received.
They also spoke about upcoming artistic endeavors happening in Tulsa amidst the 100 year centennial, such as the release of the Fire in Little Africa mixtape.
“This is crazy. It’s such an honor to experience this,” said local artist Jerica Wortham, expressing gratitude for meeting with the Kinseys.
A contributor on the Fire in Little Africa mixtape and project director for the Greenwood Arts Project, Wortham said she draws inspiration from the loss of relatives she’s experienced in her life. Her goal is to make sure every voice is heard, and that artists have the confidence to live their lives to the fullest.
“The goal is to stop that cycle of us being muted and to allow us the fullness of expression. Period,” Wortham told the Black Wall St. Times.
She said, with people suffering so much loss, it’s even more important to know that when you die, you’ve lived a full life. She strives to empower other artists “to not allow fear or their thoughts regarding their limitations to hinder them.”
For Alexander Tamahn, the overarching theme of his work includes hope, love and light.
“Not to be overly positive, there’s just so much going on and it’s exhausting,” Tamahn said. Growing up as a 90s kid, Tamahn always felt that the expectation was for him to eventually get a “real” job. He said just trying to survive pushes a lot of people to ignore self-care and self-fulfillment.
But once he gave away some of his old work to a friend, he never expected to get a phone call from the director of a group art exhibition that his friend secretly submitted the work to.
“The rest of it was kind of, as they say, history.” His work can now be viewed all over Tulsa, including at the Gathering Place.
Eddye K. Allen
A Tulsa Black Wall Street artist, Eddye K. Allen’s work combines the colors black and white, while adding a gray area. “It describes what we deal with socially: Black and White depend on each other, and we dance in the gray area,” Allen said.
With a background in psychology and mental health, she initially struggled finding her way. But creating art is part of her identity. “I was definitely the kid that was supposed to be cleaning my room, but I was making masterpieces.”
It was after moving to D.C., where a restaurant chain owner displayed her work in his businesses, that her career began to accelerate. Now back in Tulsa, she calls her work “silhouette art.” “I want people to look at my art and know that it’s mine,” Allen said.
Today, exhibits showcase her work around the world.
Kinsey collection adds significance
As Tulsa prepares for the 100 year centennial of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, Mr. Bernard Kinsey wants to elevate the voices, stories and art of Tulsa’s Black artists. He also wants people to shift their mentality to one that questions everything.
“If I go into a store and don’t see Black people I wanna know why. Why aren’t Black people working at The Gathering Place in higher numbers? If you don’t raise that it goes unsaid,” Kinsey said.
When asked if he had any concerns that his comments and art collection might draw criticism in a city that still hasn’t provided reparations to massacre victims, he didn’t beat around the bush.
“Well I don’t ruffle feathers. I pull the weeds out,” Kinsey said. “If you think I’m coming over here and I’m gonna kowtow to anybody, you’re kidding yourself. That’s not how I’m built. We’ve been to 31 cities around the world, and we’ve never changed the story line.”
Bringing up Greenwood legend and historian John Hope Franklin, Kinsey encouraged people to expand their education by reading his book From Slavery to Freedom.
“For the first time, John Hope Franklin put African Americans in the story. That’s a book that everybody should read.”
Mr. Bernard and Khalil Kinsey said they plan to put a spotlight on the work already being done in Tulsa. Interested viewers can experience the collection at The Gathering Place and the Greenwood Cultural Center in May.