Friday, March 31, 2023

ODU Exhibition Explores Intersection of Race, Sexuality & Gender

Old Dominion University’s Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries present the exhibition Black Gods of the Metropolis: The Drawings of J. Alan Cumbey, on view now through January 13, 2019.

A free reception with refreshments and cash bar is scheduled for October 11 from 6-8 p.m.

The late J. Alan Cumbey was a white gay man and a well‐known cultural writer in Richmond, Virginia.  What he kept private was that he was also a self‐taught artist creating a large body of drawings exploring his identity and world as a gay southerner.

Cumbey grew up in Southampton County playing under the tree where slave rebellion leader Nat Turner was hanged. Later in search of his gay identity, Cumbey’s identification with and admiration of the creative power of African American culture convinced him that he was black in a parallel life.

In his drawings he pictures himself as a black man, encompassing two marginalized communities in one body. When he died of complications of AIDS in 1992, Cumbey left a pictorial saga of his journey through the culture of race and sexuality of the American South. His collection contributes to an understanding of America and its cultures and aesthetics.

“This is just the second time Alan’s work has been exhibited in the public,” said his sister, Lisa Cumbey. “At first glance, some of the work seems lighthearted or frivolous, with pop culture references and bright colors. His later work allows glimpses of what he was going through personally, documenting the chaos and stress of living with AIDS. He knew his days were numbered, and there were very few days that he wasn’t compelled to make art.”

Seventy‐five of Cumbey’s works are on display in the Gordon Art Galleries along with some of his drawing tools. Cumbey was also a passionate lover and reviewer of African American music. The musical backdrop of the exhibition features several artists, genres, and pieces from which he drew creative inspiration.

Presented in conjunction with the 41st Annual ODU Literary Festival, a panel discussion on October 25 at 6 p.m. will feature three well‐known LBGTQ writers of color—Sharon P. Holland (The Erotic Life of Racism), L. Lamar Wilson (Sacrilegion), and Franny Choi (Floating, Brilliant, Gone). These authors will discuss intersections of race, sexuality, and gender among marginalized communities in the South. Their books will be also available for sale and signing.

The Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries exhibit works by nationally and internationally recognized selftaught artists, contemporary artists working in all media, and local and regional artists connected with Old Dominion University. Free and open to the public, with parking in the 45th Street garage.

Gallery hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sunday, 1 – 5 p.m.

For more information, visit ODU Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries or call (757) 683‐6271.

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