With “A mother to one and a friend to all,” eleven-year-old Geovanny toasted his mother, Valerie Cassel Oliver, during the dinner celebrating the DIA’s annual recipients of the Alain Locke awards last month. The Friends of African and African American Art hosted the event at the newly created nearby women’s club, BasBlue. In attendance, in addition to Geovanny, were members of the FAAAA board, DIA curator Valerie Mercer and the two awardees, Detroit artist Judy Bowman, and Valerie Cassel Oliver, the Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. It was a fun evening where we talked about museums, communities, art and exhibitions, explored the club and the history of its building, and enjoyed a delicious middle eastern inspired dinner. We appreciated the full experience from different perspectives and felt uplifted and inspired by the wit and observations of Geovanny, who came to Detroit to accompany his mom on this very special occasion.
No doubt one of the most successful and relevant curators of recent times, Cassel Oliver received the Alain Locke International Art Award for her innovative approaches to curating Black creativity and producing groundbreaking scholarship. During her remarks at the DIA (view the video on YouTube), she walked us through her current and highly praised exhibition, The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture and the Sonic Impulse. This presentation of southern culture and art was compelling and kept the audience engaged with questions and suggestions. It was clear to me that the DIA and our communities would immensely benefit from bringing a show of this stature and consequence to the museum. And we will be working on that.
I remember well the day my wife Alex and I visited Judy Bowman’s studio in the basement of her home. It was a lived and busy space with paper of all colors and different kinds of scissors spread throughout. Judy, a member of the Detroit Fine Arts Breakfast Club, shared with us that after many years of teaching and raising her children, she was able to get back to her artistic practice. As a collage artist, she has made important strides since I first saw her work, and now she is represented in the DIA collection, among other institutions, and has showed in Miami during Art Basel. We are very happy for her success and she deservedly received the Alain Locke Recognition Award in honor of her colorful mixed-media collage and fine art print work that celebrates the Black experience.
I am grateful to our FAAAA members for selecting Oliver Cassel and Bowman as the recipients of the 2022 Alain Locke awards. These individuals and their work epitomize the DIA’s hope to continue elevating the national and international profile of the institution while promoting our invaluable Detroit artistic talent. My warmest congratulations to both of them and my best wishes to Geovanny, whose delightful presence we will always remember.