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Through colored lines

In the fall of 2016, after being frustrated at the unjust killings of various black men in woman in the the U.S., I decided to hop in my SUV and go on a road trip. This trip was a way for me to engage with the pubic about various ideas of systematic racism and oppression through the use of painting in public places. Even used my SUV as a canvas by letting people write on it. Only one rule. Write your name or something positive to send out to the world.

Alumni gallery exhibit sparks discussion

The Stevens Art Gallery showcased “Through Colored Lines,” an exhibit by Tramaine “Tre” Wilkes (’13), from Oct. 20-Nov. 4, 2016, as part of the annual alumni art show during Homecoming. The display featured artwork Wilkes created in response to recent shootings, demonstrations and racial tensions. The exhibit was brought to campus to give voice to the black experience in America and students at Harding. The gallery featured both Wilkes’ work and that of Eric Kee (’02), a Navajo artist and minister to the Navajo people in Tuba City, Arizona. Kee’s work included carved wood sculpture, Native American flutes, jewelry, paintings and ink drawings based on his cultural heritage.

“This collection of paintings is meant to start dialogue among all communities,” an introduction from Wilkes at the exhibit stated. “I want the viewer to ask ‘Why?’ If there is no question, then there is no reason for exploration or discussion.”

Drawing inspiration from Renaissance and Mannerist artists, Wilkes’ work takes a classical approach to modern subjects. Several of his pieces stemmed from community collaboration as Wilkes travels and paints in public. Touching on topics such as tensions between the black community and law enforcement, black-on-black crime, and the role of family in society, “Through Colored Lines” sparked conversation across campus as students, faculty, staff and University guests visited the gallery.

According to Jewels Edmerson, the University’s Black Student Association president, the exhibit was a positive continuation of a campus dialogue about race that began with ASI’s race relations panel in February 2016. Edmerson said the organization toured the exhibit together.

“Words cannot describe the intense emotion felt,” Edmerson said. “Most of our group stayed more than an hour. I believe it was very beneficial and therapeutic for black students to see their University acknowledge these events and allow artwork that could be controversial.”

John Keller, professor of art and gallery curator, said that being an alumnus made Wilkes’ work particularly impactful to some.

“One student said that she never felt like she belonged at Harding until this show,” Keller said. “Generally the response was positive, with several saying that it helped them to understand how the black community felt about these issues.”


written by Amanda Floyd November 3, 2016

“A man paints with his brains and not with his hands,” alumnus Tramaine Wilkes said. “My goal for this show is to just have enough strong pieces that people will talk about it, create dialogue and that they actually try to do something about it.”

From Oct. 20 through today, the Stevens Art Gallery showcased art from Wilkes, who is currently touring the country for his “Through Colored Lines” exhibit that showcases artwork he created in response to the recent police shootings involving black individuals.

According to professor John Keller, “Through Colored Lines” is not an exhibit meant to be interpreted as an attack on police officers, but it is intended to create dialogue and address the current fears within our black communities.

Junior art education major Jordanne Lombard toured the exhibit with her art class. During the session, Wilkes discussed the background of his art.

“Walking through the exhibit was a little uncomfortable at first, but it caused me to evaluate my thoughts and reflect on my beliefs,” Lombard said. “I believe that the artist did exactly what an artist should do: challenge the viewer. What a better place than Harding to do exactly that? It makes us take a step out of the Harding bubble and realize the pain and suffering that is going on in our world around us.”

According to Adams, the administration saw the exhibit and approved it before it was open to the public. He said the administration seemed to appreciate the art, though being anxious about the reactions from students and visitors during Homecoming weekend.

Lombard said she was approached by an alumnus after viewing the exhibit during Homecoming. She said the man appeared upset and called the art offensive and “unchristian.”

“I was in shock,” Lombard said. “I wanted the man to try to understand where (Wilkes) was coming from.”

According to Adams, the exhibit was created in conjunction with the campus read, “Amazing Grace.”

“It took that jarring for (the English public) to change and to abolish slavery, and maybe it’s going to take us staring down one of our own — staring at what’s there and the real feeling — the real passion that’s there from one of our own alumni to help us say, ‘maybe it’s not all just made up stuff from the liberal media,’” Adams said. “If it was good enough for Wilberforce, and it was good enough for us to have an entire university read about Wilberforce, then do we shrink from the opportunity, or do we step out there? We step out there.”

Wilkes was raised in Thomasville, North Carolina, and learned to draw from his older brother in order to stay out of trouble. He later found refuge in a local YMCA where he was encouraged to pursue art and athletics. After serving in the U.S. Navy for four years and receiving his associate degree from Grossmont College, Wilkes transferred to Harding to play football. He graduated in 2013 with a degree in painting.

Wilkes currently travels by car and creates art in public with community collaboration. He said he spends many nights in his car and uses profits from his artwork to fund his trips. He has several works he calls community-collaborated pieces. For Wilkes, it is a way of starting conversations and allowing opinions to flow freely.

“There are images that, as white Americans, we don’t like to see or admit to, but he’s painting from the experience of his community,” Adams said.

Adams said it is important for the art department to showcase Wilkes’ art because he is a Harding alumnus and is as much a part of the Harding family as anyone else. In addition, Adams believes that ethnically diverse areas have been under-represented as Harding.

“We can’t not acknowledge that there are difficulties, and that we can talk about it in a way that is framed in a positive way,” Adams said. “We are a family, and families do go through these things, and we are better for it.”

Many of the paintings have been purchased, lost or burned. Below are the few surviving photos and images from that body of work