Washington, D.C., artist Nekisha Durrett debuts her latest collection of artwork, Magnolia, in an exhibit at Marymount University’s Cody Gallery this week. The exhibit opens as organizations, institutions and people across the country commit to acts of service in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“The importance of Dr. King’s legacy as it pertains to civil rights is evident now more than ever as we strive toward true equity and racial justice,” explained Caitlin Berry, Director of the Cody Gallery. “These intersectional opportunities for programming and collaboration are certainly in the spirit of Dr. King’s life and work.”
The Magnolia showcase will be open to the public on Thursday, January 21, and features 30 lightboxes, each containing a Magnolia leaf which Durrett has perforated with the name of a woman murdered by law enforcement. Durrett explains that the idea came together after walking through a nearby cemetery where she spotted the fallen leaves. A conversation with a neighbor unveiled a new metaphor within the discarded foliage.
“I started thinking about these fallen leaves, thinking about death, looking at the color of the leaf, recognizing that it was the same color as my skin,” Durrett explained. “Thinking about a rather joking conversation I had with a friend, who had a Magnolia tree in their front yard, I mentioned how beautiful the tree is and she just seemed to only lament at how difficult it was to get rid of the leaves. So, that, and just thinking of it as this thing you’d rather sweep away, discard — I started to think of these leaves as black women.”
Visitors are invited to sit on a bench at the center of the Gallery and read the story of each woman, her life and how it abruptly and violently ended.
“I thought it was an important conversation to be had right now,” Durrett said. “It’s MLK Week, and the week of the [presidential] inauguration. We’re a couple of weeks beyond the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. I think pairing this work with this week, it’s an opportunity for people to think about the fact that this march towards justice is never-ending, it’s relentless…it’s a long struggle, and I think this work shows that.”
On Thursday at 6 pm, Durrett will join artist Endia Beal for an intimate conversation in collaboration with Marymount’s Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. The conversation aims to speak openly about the women featured by the exhibit, and more deeply, to have their names seen and stories heard.