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DC Native Sculptor Showcases 32-Year Public Art Career

Bowie State University Brings Nationally Acclaimed Artist to the Region

(Bowie, Md.) – August 26, 2013 – A Bowie State University art exhibition showcasing the sculptures of Washington, D.C. native Ayokunle Odeleye will detail how he produced monumental structures that have defined communities across the country over his 32-year public art career.

“Ayokunle Odeleye: 32 Years of Public Art,” co-presented by the Prince George’s Arts and Humanities Council, will run Sept. 12 – Oct. 31 in the Gallery of Art in the Fine and Performing Arts Center.

Miniature models of Odeleye’s public sculptures made of wood, bronze, stainless steel and aluminum will be the centerpieces of the exhibition. Drawings and photographs will reveal his perspective on the process to design, construct and install his pieces in public spaces. By collaborating with architects, engineers, and community representatives, he creates “contemporary architectural markers of community identity,” Odeleye said.

Gallery Director Clayton Lang said the exhibition will give BSU students insights into becoming a successful public artist. “The public art arena is lucrative, but difficult to navigate, and he’s obviously figured it out,” Lang said. “You couldn’t find a better role model for our students and aspiring artists than Ayokunle Odeleye in this specialized field.”

Odeleye has completed more than 20 public art commissions, including “The Three Guardians,” stainless steel sculptures stationed at the entrance of the Bunker Hill Fire Department in Prince George’s County, Md. “The Guide” is a 25-foot-high, welded steel figure marking the grounds at Baltimore City College high school for nearly 20 years, becoming a community landmark. His most recent commissioned piece is a bronze bust of famed civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois for Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Ga.

As part of the exhibition’s opening reception, art lovers will hear from Odeleye about his experience in public art on Tuesday, Sept. 17. A panel discussion on Wednesday, Oct. 30 will engage award-winning local artists in sharing their experiences in public art and images of their work.

“Public art speaks to a collective reality. This exhibit is a unique opportunity to explore the intentions of public art from the artist’s personal journey to a broader conversation around community and creative place,” said Rhonda Dallas, executive director of the Prince George’s Arts and Humanities Council.

The exhibition events are:

  • “Ayokunle Odeleye: 32 Years of Public Art” Exhibition
    Thursday, Sept. 12 – Thursday, Oct. 31
    Gallery of Art, Fine and Performing Arts Center

    Gallery Hours:
    Monday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
    Tuesday 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
    3-5 p.m.
    Wednesday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
    Thursday 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
    4-7 p.m.
    Friday 12-7 p.m.
    Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Opening Reception
    Tuesday, Sept. 17 5:30-6:45 p.m. Reception
    7-8:30 p.m. Lecture by Ayokunle Odeleye

    Gallery of Art, Fine and Performing Arts Center

  • Panel Discussion on Public Art
    Wednesday, Oct. 30, 6-9 p.m.
    Panelists:
    - Akili Ron Anderson, stained glass artist and sculptor
    - Cheryl Foster, mosaic and stained glass artist
    - Martha Jackson Jarvis, ceramics artist
    - Ayokunle Odeleye, sculptor
    Recital Hall, Fine and Performing Arts Center

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ABOUT BOWIE STATE UNIVERSITY
Bowie State University (BSU) is an important higher education access portal for qualified persons from diverse academic and socioeconomic backgrounds, seeking a high-quality and affordable public comprehensive university. The University places special emphasis on the science, technology, teacher education, business, and nursing disciplines within the context of a liberal arts education. For more information about BSU, visit the website at www.bowiestate.edu.

Artist delivers ‘Jubilation’ to ’Burg

The old Walker–Grant School, a three-story brick structure built in 1938, was Fredericksburg’s first publicly supported school for black children—and Stanley White’s high school.

Though the students had to borrow a telescope from nearby James Monroe High School and teachers often purchased their own art supplies, White found the environment comfortable.

In 1968, when Fredericksburg fully integrated its schools, White and his fellow Walker–Grant classmates were sent to James Monroe, where he finished his senior year.

He gained access to endless reams of construction paper—but, in an environment that still wasn’t all that welcoming to black students, he also gained a sense of alienation.

He found solace in his art. Now White, who goes by the name Ayokunle Odeleye, is a professional sculptor and art professor in Georgia. His public sculptures are displayed all over, including Alaska, Texas and Maryland—and, as of Saturday, downtown Fredericksburg.

Odeleye has been working on a sculpture, commissioned by St. George’s Episcopal Church, which will be unveiled Saturday in the rose garden at the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center. The creation honors the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The 4-foot high sculpture has been dubbed “Jubilation” by its creator. The figure personifies freedom, with a prominent set of bronze arms preparing to release a dove into the sky.

“It reflects joy and celebration,” said Odeleye. “It’s the celebration of one knowing one is completely free as a person.”

TURNING TO ART

Local artist Johnny Johnson taught art to Odeleye at Walker–Grant and at James Monroe, but their relationship really flourished during the young artist’s senior year. No longer a starter on the basketball team at his new school, Odeleye had more time to discuss and create art.

“I think he was very much concerned whether or not he was treated fairly by the basketball coach at James Monroe. I told him, ‘You try to focus on your art,’” recalled Johnson.

And he did. That year, Odeleye won a “Best in Show” award for a painting, and displayed other works in shows in Fredericksburg, Stafford, Spotsylvania and Culpeper. He also had exhibits in local restaurants.

Johnson steered Odeleye, “towards the path of productive behavior and positive self-esteem in a small Southern town that could be hard on black youths,” according to the sculptor.

The tension associated with integration at James Monroe often sapped the spirits of black students, Johnson recalled.

He described the way try-outs for cheerleading at James Monroe left out black cheerleaders during the initial year of assimilation. He explained that the James Monroe squad had been pre-selected the previous spring, before the black cheerleaders had a chance to audition for a spot.

“But you keep in mind the black kids lost their Walker–Grant Tigers—their school. They shouldn’t lose their identity as being an integral part,” Johnson said.

Fredericksburg stayed largely segregated even after the assimilation took place. Odeleye said that he and many of the students from Walker–Grant stayed together in groups. Many were from Mayfield, a black community at that time.

“It [James Monroe] wasn’t really home for us,” he said. “But I stayed closely involved in art.”

Johnson described Odeleye as an active supporter of the civil rights movement through his art and ideals. The push of African–American culture into a Eurocentric-dominated society would later be the theme of many of Odeleye’s works.

PURSUING A DREAM

Johnson encouraged Odeleye to apply to Virginia Commonwealth University, and he was honored with a partial scholarship from Johnson’s fraternity. He went from there to Howard University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in art education and a master’s degree in sculpture.

Along with theory and technique, Odeleye studied African–American art, American history and other social issues surrounding African–Americans at the time.

He now uses this research and creativity to create public sculptures out of wood, bronze, stainless steel and other materials.

Pensacola, Fla., is the home of his 3-foot tall Martin Luther King Jr. bust crafted from bronze, while Atlanta houses his 48-inch-high, 72-inch-long mahogany piece titled “Struggles and Achievements of African American Women.”

Odeleye creates art for public spaces partly as a way to “define, energize and humanize urban environments,” and also to leave pieces of himself behind on this Earth as his legacy.

The artist is currently a professor of art at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, and, besides that, works on design and fabrication at Odeleye Sculpture Studios.

His newest creation will counter the negative aspects of Fredericksburg’s past, a visual already represented by the slave auction block on the corner of William and Charles streets, according to the artist.

Johnson said his former student has grown into an artist who inspires him.

“He’s a good role model, not just for black students, but for any student who wants to live a dream,” said Johnson.

WANT TO SEE?

Ayokunle Odeleye, a James Monroe High School graduate, will unveil his sculpture “Jubilation” Saturday at the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center.

The piece, commissioned by St. George’s Episcopal Church, celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The unveiling will take place after a 10 a.m. service at the church, 905 Princess Anne St., and a “witness walk” to the museum at William and Princess Anne streets.

See images of Odeleye’s work in progress at stgeorgesepiscopal.net/galleries/view/993 and see more of his pieces at odeleyesculpturestudios.com

Charlotte Rodina: 540/374-5444
crodina@freelancestar.com