USTA and the Armory Show bring 5 artists to the US Open

Armory Off-Site, an Armory Show program, has partnered with the United States Tennis Association to present sculptural works by five artists from marginalized communities at the US Open.

The work will be on display at the Open’s premises, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, in late August and early September.

The partnership builds on the Be Open social justice campaign led by Tennis Association Marketing Executive Nicole Kankam. With Diversity, Inclusion and Respect as the cornerstone of the campaign, in 2020 the Tennis Association, which owns and operates the US Open, featured the work of 18 artists identifying as Black, Indigenous or Colored in the front empty seats of the Arthurian Ashe Stadium.

“It all revolves around this one core statement: if you keep an open mind, great things can happen in our sport and around the world,” Kankam said of the campaign.

Artists whose work will be exhibited this year include Jose Dávila, represented by Sean Kelly Gallery; Myles Nurse, represented by Half Gallery; Carolyn Salas, represented by Ms. Gallery; Luzene Hill from K Art; and Gerald Chukwuma, with Gallery Kristin Hjellegjerde. Each artist will produce one work, with some pieces being multi-part. (The work will be for sale.)

Incorporating elements of the Uli art tradition from south-eastern Nigeria into his sculptural work, Chukwuma uses his pieces to depict voluntary and forced global migration.

“I think migration has brought a lot to Africa and to Africans,” Chukwuma, from eastern Nigeria, said in an interview. “Not only did it scatter us all over the world, it took us out of our culture. It has diluted what we believe in, it has diluted who we are.”

Chukwuma intends to present one of a series of sculptures he has revisited the Igbo Landing: In this landing in the early 19th century, some 75 newly enslaved West Africans took control of a coastal ship, landed the ship and later marched into the waters of Dunbar Creek, Georgia, committed mass suicide.

He said he’s glad the work is being shown in the United States. His series will eventually consist of 75 sculptures dedicated to the enslaved Africans who rebelled. “So I think that’s a beautiful thing,” he said. “There is liberation”

Three of the five artists will work specifically for the US Open, including a sculpture by Indigenous artist Luzene Hill. The work “To Rise and Begin Again” consists of undulating columns symbolizing the upward thrust of Cherokee sovereignty and defying efforts to destroy it. Each column has a letterpress piece featuring a Cherokee syllable to raise awareness of the written language.

“We’re still here, and we keep rising,” she said.

Hill said in an interview that she was honored and humbled to be able to show her work to a larger audience.

Through its partnership with the Tennis Association, Armory Off-Site is striving to reach people who may not be familiar with the annual Armory Show, said Nicole Berry, executive director of the Armory Show.

Armory Off-Site began last September with a mission to introduce international contemporary artists to a wider audience.

“Hopefully we can make some art lovers out of tennis fans,” Berry said, “and maybe vice versa.”

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