Susan Mask | Back Then

Back Then

Black History Told through Art

For starters, I hope you, your families and those you love are well.   The name of my art show is Back Then.  It is an extension of my 2019 body of work and refers to my discovery of Oberlin Village, NC, the inspiration for this exhibit. I am pleased to be able to bring it to you despite the challenges of Covid-19.  Oberlin Village was a freedmen’s community founded in Raleigh, NC, after the Civil War by formerly enslaved blacks, including some of my ancestors.  The community flourished through the 1950s but was dismantled by urban renewal and the depression, two major traumas that made it harder for black families to survive there.  Gradually, people moved north and west as part of the Great Migration.  The Oberlin Village community emphasized land ownership and education.  More doctors, lawyers, artists, educators, and good solid people doing everyday work lived there and made “a way from no way” as the old folks would say.   I recently learned of Oberlin Village through a connection to Preservation North Carolina.  They acquired my great grandparents’ home, titled Oakcrest.  It has now become part of the PNC headquarters as they strive to preserve the structures and homes that were vital to the community.  Through their curiosity and mine we have piece together an amazing history. My paintings are based on photographs taken at the turn of the 20th century that capture the spirit of the black community that excelled there.  Featured within the exhibit are portraits of people with connections to Oberlin Village.  From an artistic perspective, the exhibit contains images and figures influenced by gestural style, using a variety of media such as pencil, pen, ink, watercolor, and acrylic.   Among my work you will see people who persisted in the face of challenges and thrived despite Black Codes, race discrimination, Jim Crow and more.  They went on to break barriers in several areas.  My hope is that these images will be both a lesson and an inspiration for all of us today.