Exhibit celebrates artist's African American heritage
BRATTLEBORO — The paintings that make up "Joseph Diggs: Proud 2 Be American" exhibit celebrate and memorialize several generations of the artist's African American and Cape Verdean family. The exhibit is on view at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC) through June 16.
"`Proud 2 Be American' was inspired by an article about my uncle Mitchell, a Tuskegee Airman," said Diggs. "After the war he wanted to fly commercial jets but was denied the opportunity because of his race. I wanted to make a piece of artwork that would depict his accomplishments without negativity about his situation."
Diggs was born in France as an Army brat; his father was in the military before settling down on the family's property in Osterville, Massachusetts. Diggs' ancestors were originally crop workers in the cranberry bogs, but they were entrepreneurial and bought the land that Diggs continues to live on today. Baseball, service to country, and Joe's Twin Villa, the family's once-celebrated bar and jazz club, feature prominently in Diggs' paintings.
"I asked myself, What does it really mean to be proud, especially when you grow up in a racially suppressed and divided country?" Diggs said. "Pride comes from a place that reminds us of the positive changes we have made, through even our hardest times, as the people who helped build this great nation. In this fragile time, when it seems easy to take a side and speak negatively about what we feel is wrong with our country, it is more important than ever to appreciate the basic good in us all."
One of the paintings in the exhibit is a memorial to James Byrd, Jr., who was dragged to his death behind a pickup truck in Texas in 1998. "It is a long, narrow, near abstract painting composed of alternating passages of dark and light, with the lynching-by-dragging represented toward the bottom," said BMAC Chief Curator Mara Williams. "In testament to Diggs's compassion, the horrific act does not define our experience of the painting. The ascending bands of golden yellow impart an ambient glow, creating a visual elegy to Byrd."
Diggs has had solo shows at the Guyer Art Barn, Cotuit Center for the Arts, and the Cape Cod Museum of Art. He is an art instructor for Cotuit Center for the Arts and for the Brewster, Massachusetts, Department of Youth Services, where he teaches painting to incarcerated young men. He is represented by Berta Walker Gallery in Provincetown and Wellfleet.
Located downtown in historic Union Station, the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center presents rotating exhibits of contemporary art, complemented by lectures, artist talks, film screenings, and other public programs. Regular admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, and $4 for students. Major support for BMAC is provided by its members and Allen Bros. Oil, Brattleboro Savings & Loan, C&S Wholesale Grocers, the Four Columns Inn, Sam's Outdoor Outfitters, and Whetstone Station Restaurant & Brewery. For more information, call 802-257-0124 or visit www.brattleboromuseum.org.
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