BROTHER MELVIN HUBBARD EL, ONE OF THE KIDS IN THE EXHIBIT AND EMMAI ALAQUIVA
On January 27, the heralded project “OPTIC VOICES: Mama’s Boys” finished its three-month residency at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center. Its creator, Emmai Alaquiva, told the Courier’s Renee Aldrich that his intention with the installation was to “hug the very core of a mother’s heart through the cathartic vessel of art.”
Throughout the months, people were able to see portraits of the Black mothers who had lost their sons to gun violence, like Michelle Kenney, mother of Antwon Rose II. There were pieces of memorabilia on display, such as the high school diploma of Michael Brown, shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri. There was the basketball jersey of Eric Garner, who died in a chokehold by New York City police. There was the XBox controller of Philando Castile, shot and killed in a car outside of Minneapolis.
The closing reception on January 27 featured Gwen Carr, the mother of Garner.
“The closing reception of OPTIC VOICES was something remarkable, a crescendo of how important social justice work is,” said Alaquiva. “Really a beautification of what healing looks like when we all come together, in support of each other. Regardless of the tragedy, there’s always the process of healing and when we tackle healing through the vessel of the arts, it’s something that we can all really internalize.”
GWEN CARR, MOTHER OF ERIC GARNER AND FORMER PITTSBRUGH POLICE DETECTIVE ALFONSO SLOAN WITH A PAINTING HE DID FOR HER IN HER HAND. (PHOTOS BY J.L. MARTELLO)
The August Wilson African American Cultural Center and the Richard King Mellon Foundation played an integral role in the installation coming to fruition. Hundreds attended the closing reception, and even more were able to explore OPTIC VOICES throughout its three-month run on the second floor of the center, Downtown.
The installation featured “augmented reality,” Alaquiva told the Courier. When a person scanned a photo of a mother on their phone, the phone would display a photo of the mother’s son who passed. When a person scanned the poem that Antwon Rose II wrote, it created a voice that recited the poem.
Alaquiva said thanks to the “B.U.I.L.D. Residency” through the August Wilson African American Cultural Center and Richard King Mellon Foundation, OPTIC VOICES will be hitting the road. Alaquiva hopes the project will land in cities in Florida, along with St. Louis, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis, where the tragedies of Black mothers losing their sons at the hands of police have occurred.
KIVA FISHER GREEN, AMONG THOSE CHECKING OUT THE EXHIBIT. IN THE PHOTO ON THE WALL IS MICHELLE KENNEY.