When seven Kansas City poets read new work this weekend, it'll be inspired by colorful, layered collages — a pieced-together medium that holds deep meaning for one emerging area artist.
“Because of colonialism, black culture has been torn down and pieced back together, cut and pasted, changed with new generations,” Johnson says.
For “Dialogue in Color,” The Writer’s Place president, Anne Gatschet, asked Jessica Ayala, Jose Faus, Sheri Purpose Hall, Chell Navarro, Glenn North and Jermaine Thompson to write poems in response to Johnson's collages. Constructed from fragments of painted paper, the pieces inspired a range of responses from the poets.
Gatschet, who contributed a poem of her own, says she was struck by the quiet domestic scenes that Johnson creates.
“They get deeper and deeper as you look," Gatschet says, "and they very respectfully portray intimate moments: The gestures, the way people's bodies are leaning, and the way that a pillow is left on a couch.”
Johnson's pieces include objects synonymous with black culture. For this new exhibition, Johnson says she wanted to stay true to the common themes in her own work while allowing something new to spring from the ideas in each poem.
“Trying to think about how the poems and the visual work operate together was a struggle at first, but I’ve learned to let things happen more organically,” Johnson says.
The finished installation will be revealed on Saturday at a reception and artist’s talk. Each writer who has collaborated with Johnson will be on hand to read their poem.
Sheri "Purpose" Hall wrote a poem reacting to one of Johnson's pieces depicting a room with furniture and sacks of groceries on a table. Hall says she was moved by the scene's neatness and simplicity, and wanted to explore themes beneath its surface.
“It made me think about the way our people have traditionally had to hide our culture to keep it,” Hall says. “The average person would not see the history in this; however, for our people, the handed-down couch and art work on the walls is an important piece of the family and carries the respect of the ancestors.”
The layers of meaning within the works were not lost on Gatschet.
“Even though they are talking about a long-term violence that has been done to a people over hundreds of years there is no violence in the works,” Gatschet says. “They are extremely hopeful. I just think that takes a tremendous capacity for a young woman to do that."
Dialogue in Color, 6:30-9:30 p.m. Saturday, January 6 at The Writers Place, 3607 Pennsylvania Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri; 816-753-1090.
Julie Denesha is a freelance photographer and reporter for KCUR. Follow her on Twitter, @juliedenesha.