Knowhere Art Gallery recently made its debut at the 60th Venice Biennale with A Common Thread That Binds Us, an exhibition that focuses on the shared experience of humanity through contemporary art.

 

The works of artists D. Lammie Hanson, Adana Tillman, Maria-Lana Queen and Alison Croney Moses are being showcased in Venice from April 20 to Nov. 24.

 

Knowhere Gallery is based in Oak Bluffs on Dukes County avenue, with a sister gallery called Center of Knowhere located on Circuit avenue. In collaboration with the European Cultural Centre, the gallery received an invitation to the Venice Biennale over a year ago.

 

The international cultural exhibit is often dubbed the “Olympics of art.” Artists are represented by country and the event occurs every other year.

 

“[The ECC and the Biennale] is not something easy to get into,” said Valerie Francis, who co-owns Knowhere Art Gallery with her husband Ralph Groce. “I didn’t know they were paying attention to us. It’s a real honor to be able to step into this international platform.”

 

In the past, Knowhere Gallery has hosted numerous African American artists. The four women Ms. Francis selected worked in tandem to shape her original idea into a finished creation. The fluidity of art and the creation process allowed for a final product that Ms. Francis was excited about.

 

“They were a perfect fit for communicating on this international stage how important it is for us to cherish who we are as human beings and not divide us because of what we see as differences,” Ms. Francis said.

Artist Maria-Lana Queen still remembers the day she received the invitation from Ms. Francis and Mr. Groce.

“I felt a level of amazement and awe that I was asked by Knowhere and I couldn’t have been more proud to participate,” Ms. Queen said.

 

The process leading up to the exhibition was filled with inspiration, creativity and collaboration.

And then, it was time to go to Venice.

All four artists, along with Ms. Francis and Mr. Groce, experienced the history and beauty of Venice together.

 

“To actually walk through Venice and seeing a moment of how the architecture was preserved, it was so exquisite,” artist D.Lammie Hanson said. “My heart was so glad and so happy to have been a part of this.”

The artists also discussed their work during panels and conversations.

 

“To be able to have an artist talk about your work in Venice so that people could get to know who you were and what we’re coming from, it felt like we were able to validate how professional and how dedicated and how amazing our work is,” Ms. Hanson said.

 

The exhibition focused on the idea of humanity, similarity and connectivity. Each artist had their medium and work showcased: Ms. Moses created wooden shell sculptures to showcase the complexities of human origin, Ms. Queen’s paintings dived into identity and cultural differences, Ms. Tillman’s quilted panel explored the passion and dynamics of life and Ms. Hanson’s gold-point paintings illustrated how time and space transcend boundaries into the afterlife. Then the cycle of life begins again.

 

“More than 90 per cent of who we are is the same,” Ms. Francis said. “There is a small percentage that defines us differently and that was an important message to represent on an international stage especially at this time, no matter where we turn, there is division and we are fighting against each other as people instead of recognizing how much we are alike.”

 

Ms. Francis is aware that most people on the Island can’t make it to Venice to see the exhibition. Therefore, Knowhere Art Gallery is looking to host an exhibit that encapsulates some of what is showing in Venice.

 

“I’m thinking about possibly Venice On The Vineyard [in August] so we’ll have work by the artists that are exhibiting in Venice in the Dukes County Avenue location,” Ms. Francis said.

 

The Biennale was a “dream come true” and an experience that will carry through everyone’s future work, she said.

 

“There’s representation of four African American females by an African American art gallery representing the United States of America,” Ms. Queen said. “I was proud to be a part of it.”

Center of Knowhere on Circuit avenue will open on June 15 for the season. Knowhere Art Gallery on Dukes County avenue will open on July 15.  

 

Katrina Liu - Vineyard Gazette

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