Najee Dorsey’s comptemporary work a highlight of Rittenhouse Square Fine Art Show 2012

"B4 Rosa – Claudette Colvin" is a mixed-media collage by Najee Dorsey.
"B4 Rosa – Claudette Colvin" is a mixed-media collage by Najee Dorsey.
Posted: June 01, 2012

Visitors to this year’s Rittenhouse Square Fine Art Show might be surprised to find, among the landscape paintings and clay sculptures, scenes from the Occupy movement. The work belongs to Najee Dorsey, a self-described "documentarian of history and culture."

Dorsey is one of 143 artists appearing in this year’s show. An annual tradition since 1932, it’s the nation’s oldest outdoor art show.

Dorsey’s work makes the show feel as fresh as ever. The artist feels it’s his duty to engage the community in discussion and reflection on political and social issues. Dorsey uses figurative mixed-media paintings to respond to the ongoing socioeconomic struggles of African-Americans in relation to America’s past, specifically the civil-rights movement.

In his latest series, "Resistance," Dorsey simultaneously honors the unsung heroes who faced injustice in the past and the rising voices of the recent Occupy movement. Artistic portraits feature individuals including Haitian freedom fighter Toussaint L’Ouverture Renditions and Claudette Colvin, known for resisting bus segregation before the better-known Rosa Parks incident.

To create the intensely colorful mixed-media paintings, Dorsey starts by creating a digital collage of found imagery. He builds on this base with layers of ripped paper, paint and found objects to give each vignette the illusion of depth. The signage, license plates, bottle caps, dominoes and plastic bags used in the work make history feel tangible. The result is vivid, dynamic, and resonant of the cultural character of the South, where Dorsey draws much of his inspiration.

Dorsey is a self-taught artist from Arkansas. His roots have infused his work with a sense of identity and personal meaning. In 2005, Dorsey decided to focus on art full time and opened a gallery, used-book store and coffee-shop space in Blytheville, Ark., as a platform for his work. In the past several years, Dorsey has been featured at the Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit, the African American Museum in Dallas and the Marietta Museum of Art in Florida.

In addition to a well-established fine-arts career, Dorsey founded Black Art in America, a leading virtual network and resource for the black visual-arts community. BAIA provides commentary, news, gallery roundups, collector information and artist profiles. With more than a quarter-million visitors to the BAIA website each year, Dorsey’s vision to create more exposure for artists of color is being realized.

Rittenhouse Square Fine Art Show, Friday through Sunday, Rittenhouse Square Park, 18th and Walnut streets, rittenhousesquareart.com.

Art Attack is a partnership with Drexel University and is supported by a grant from the Knight/NEA Community Arts Journalism Challenge, administered by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.

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