From the bright blue sky on one side of the room to the star-filled night time sky on the other, entering Naomi Chambers’ installation is like walking into a wonderland.
From the bright blue sky on one side of the room to the star-filled night time sky on the other, entering Naomi Chambers’ installation is like walking into a wonderland. Taking the 1972 Black Panthers Black Community Survival Conference as the starting point, her installation presents a holistic view of not just what it means to survive, but what it means to thrive and achieve self-actualization for the Black community.
Chambers brings the Panthers’ concept of radical inter-communalism into the 1414 Annex through her creation of stations for the community, including a coffee stop, an outdoor tea party, a moonlit cinema (with animation produced by the artist), and an ice cream social, with handmade polymer ice cream scoops in a variety of flavors. Chambers’ painted homage to Harriet Tubman fills the wall and is embellished with teddy bears, toys, and stickers. Her work asks us to think about the importance of love, light, food, and play for the health and self-actualization of the community. Chambers invites viewers to be a part of the process (and the community created in her installation) by adding more stickers.
I am staging an event that draws from the Black Panther Party’s Black Community Survival Conferences of the 1970s. The installation is a continuation of my hack of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where I think about what Black people in America need to reach self-actualization. I am visiting the work of heroes from our legacy of self-determination, like Huey P. Newton and Harriet Tubman to do this. I began by collecting teddy bear imagery and teacups and rainbows as supports for a family living through hard times. The objects here imagine what we need to survive and thrive: love, light, and teddy bears (soft bodies), food (nourishment), coffee (stay woke) and tea (stay informed) and play.
Naomi Chambers is a Pittsburgh-based painter and assemblage artist; she also runs The Flower House in the Pittsburgh neighborhood Wilkinsburg. The Flower House is a community art studio and art center that responded to the needs of the Black community and families of Wilkinsburg by providing a space to create, learn and gather. It is cultivated by group-centered artists who practice cooperative economics to empower women and families.