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New Elder Gallery Exhibits Explore Joy, Collaboration and Identity

JOY & Who Are Your People? runs until Dec. 4

Works of art hang inside Elder Gallery
JOY & Who Are Your People? is at Elder Gallery of Contemporary Arts until Dec. 4. (Photo courtesy of Nelia Verano)

The Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art is currently running two exhibits that are made up of work by five local artists. The exhibits, titled JOY & Who Are Your People?, are introspective dives into joyfulness and self-awareness. They will run simultaneously at Elder Gallery in South End until Dec. 4.

JOY is an exhibition featuring four artists – Windy O’Connor, Lo’Vonia Parks, Erin Comerford Miller and Carla Aaron-Lopez – who embrace and embody exultation through their work. According to Elder Gallery’s website, the collection aims to unveil how innate joy fuels each artist’s individual artwork and collaborative creativity while taking a deep dive into relationships, collaboration and the transformative power of women coming together.

On Nov. 6, Elder Gallery will host a documentary screening and roundtable discussion with the artists moderated by Ohavia Phillips.

Who Are Your People? is the first solo show from local artist and recent college grad Makayla Binter, who investigates her community, her people and their respective journeys, which are often layered and complicated. She takes aim at the masks we wear to meet expectations, or to measure up to some standard, and how in doing so, we lose sight of our own reflection.

Through 14 pieces created with a combination of mixed acrylic paint and spray paint on canvas, plus photo collages on paper, Binter asks, “Who are you when you allow yourself to be imperfect?” She also delves into community and investigates how we create systems of support, who we seek out as peers and mentors and what it means to find your people.

Binter will be at Elder Gallery for an artist talk on Nov. 18.

Queen City Nerve recently caught up with artists Carla Aaron-Lopez and Makayla Binter to learn more about their work and what audiences can expect to see at the joint exhibit.

Carla Aaron-Lopez

Carla Aaron-Lopez is a middle school art teacher, photographer, printmaker, and collagist who also dabbles in murals and painting. She is a member of Black arts collective and event space BLKMRKTCLT, and a deeply committed collaborator who has pioneered platforms for underground artists and built spaces that encourage experimentation in both Atlanta and Charlotte.

In addition to including her own work in JOY, Aaron-Lopez also took on a leadership role by working with Elder Gallery owner Sonya Pfeiffer to curate the artists in the exhibit. 

Carla Aaron-Lopez
Carla Aaron-Lopez (right) at a preview of her exhibit JOY at Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art. (Photo courtesy of Nelia Verano)

How would you describe yourself as an artist?

I am a multidisciplinary artist. My main fields of expertise are photography and printmaking. I will often utilize any type of materials to create works resulting in mixed media pieces for exhibitions. 

How did you get involved in JOY?

I wanted support in organizing an exhibition that would celebrate the joy women experience while together in a positive environment. Sonya Pfeiffer, owner of Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art, has been working with me since the pandemic began. What we learned during this time is everyone was going through something and nothing pure was being celebrated. People were being challenged mentally and life was beginning to be draining.

Each woman in the exhibition is connected in one way or another. When women enjoy each other, and being in the same space with each other, something magical happens — life is brighter, kinder and better than the previous day. This was the beginning foundation for how JOY was organized. 

Why is collaboration key in art and creativity?

Collaborating is very necessary for artists to grow. It presents healthy challenges in which, if done right, artists learn new skills and practices that help their processes grow. Artists can be lonely people and when we intentionally work together, we grow to become better artists.

Why were these artists chosen for JOY and how does their work and who they are enhance the exhibit?

We thought about experience and who is really someone that holds other artists down. For Erin Comerford and Lo’Vonia Parks, it is their first professional exhibition as a photographer and artist. Erin is known for shooting interior spaces for major publications, however, her images look amazing when she shoots portraits of other artists.

Lo’Vonia has participated in many different aspects of art, but never saw herself as an artist. I believed she needed a chance to experience something different that would be a challenge for her to go beyond her portrait drawings and bring forth her positive perspective of women and their bodies.

Windy [O’Connor] is so special because all of her works bring so much joy to her clients. What many of her clients and followers may not realize is that she is extremely supportive of women artists and will teach you everything she knows to keep your art business running. Not many people care so deeply about another person, but she does.

Artwork featured in the JOY exhibit
“Flower Child” by Windy O’Connor, “Bakasana (Crane Pose)” by Lo’Vonia Parks, “Wonderland” Erin Comerford Miller and “Go Raw. Let’s Begin” by Carla Aaron-Lopez.

Why is an exhibit like this important right now?

JOY is important because we need a reminder of how special it is right now. People seem to feel beaten down as a result of the pandemic and the negative press that has come out as a result of people being stuck at home. There has been the rise of #MeToo and the harm done to women’s bodies, a rocky election cycle that led to an insurrection and folks losing their jobs left and right due to cutbacks.

People always believe that women can’t work together when in reality, we work just fine together. Especially if we enjoy one another’s company. I have spent time with each woman in this exhibition and I have experienced something new and powerful each time. I enjoy working with other women who listen to each other and feel empathy for each other. We no longer have time to dwell on the negative when we can collaborate and become better versions of ourselves.

What do you hope audiences take away from seeing JOY?

I want people to see what happens when you give women the reigns to collaborate inside and outside their circles. I want people to listen to what drives the artists to create, why they chose to create with another artist and I want people to learn about the support we gave each other through this planning process. I want people to know that they aren’t ever alone and sometimes working with someone who is completely different from who you are can be successful.

JOY is a gift to the public. It’s an honest and open look inside the minds of four women artists who are now forever connected because we agree that the world really does need to celebrate the joy of living and creating more often.

Artist Makayla Binter painting
Makayla Binter is showing her first exhibit, Who Are Your People?, at Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art. (Photo by Kieran Holloway)

Makayla Binter

Makayla Binter graduated from Davidson College in 2020 with a degree in biology and her sights set on working in sports medicine. Although she always loved creative arts, her focus began to shift in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, when she was asked to paint the “V” in a Black Lives Matter mural in Spartanburg, South Carolina. In late 2020, she was later one of a group of artists who created works at Camp North End ahead of a campaign stop by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

As Binter’s work gained exposure, she decided to fully lean into her passion for painting, photography, murals and digital arts. She has since participated in projects with Mint Museum Randolph, Urban Outfitters, Spirit Square Knight Gallery and Lemonade Exhibit at Fillmore Charlotte.

How would you describe yourself as an artist? 

I see myself as very expressive and engaging. I like to create and simulate motion in my pieces, but also encourage viewers to physically move up close and far back as they take in the piece. Every piece I have made is a reflection of myself and my experience, but also those that I share with others.

I like to get very personal with my works but sometimes I paint so fast, they seem to be incomplete or like something is missing. However, I have accepted that to be the way I paint; maybe my paintings are never intended to be finished because I end up finishing the pieces on another canvas. Each builds off of the other and I think within everything I make, you can see my growth process as an artist, individual and storyteller.

What work have you done around Charlotte that people might recognize?

The “Unify” mural at Kiplin Automotive Group on Brookshire Boulevard [to raise awareness about people suffering from injustice], murals in City West Commons on West Boulevard and Andrill Terrace, the “E” in the “West End” mural on Beatties Ford Road [to honor victims of the June 2020 mass shooting at a Juneteenth weekend block party], and the driveway of Galilee Ministries of East Charlotte.

Various works by Makayla Binter in Who Are Your People?
Various works by Makayla Binter are featured in Who Are Your People? at Elder Gallery in South End.

How did you come up with the theme for Who Are Your People?

In college, I played a lot with photo collage and at first I thought of it as a cool, expressive medium to compensate for the fact that I was not a realist painter. But after pushing the idea further and further and continuing to ask “why” I came to the realization that this was about identity. I wanted the show to explore what would happen if every identity we had, seen or not, entered the room at the same time we did.

We are so much more than our physical bodies, but we are judged by that first even when our stories, experiences, dreams and passions follow us. For the show, I asked people, “Who encouraged you to be who you are today? For good or for worse? How did you become comfortable with the person you are today?” to get to the roots of who we are behind our everyday masks.

Artist Makayla Binter poses in front of her work at Elder Gallery
Artist Makayla Binter poses in front of her work at Elder Gallery. (Photo courtesy of Nelia Verano)

The result are these chaotic, disorganized and beautiful “portraits” that tell the story of fear, patience, love and more. The paintings followed that idea but became more about growth in the process of accepting the masks we are given and believing in the person we are becoming. 

What do you hope audiences take away from the exhibit?

I think this is up to the viewers. By putting the works in a public space, I have given the right to others to let the works speak for themselves and because of that, everyone will have their own narrative to fit what a piece means or what the show means overall.

I am always more interested in knowing what people see in my work rather than what I think it means. That is the true connection point of art: the shared experience of seeing work, but the different interpretations that come along with it. I don’t want to limit anyone’s experience with my own ideas of what I want.

This is your first solo exhibit. How are you feeling in the lead up to the show?

I am ecstatic. I am nervous. I am just on Cloud 9. People that I love and care about and those that love and care about me have been showing so much support. I have strangers reaching out telling me that they love my work. I am just overwhelmed with love and support, which makes my heart so full. I am just excited for the day where I can see everyone enjoy the works and tell me about what they seem, and I get to watch people look and ask questions and experience the show.

Anything else?

I would love to thank my mom for being the rock behind all of my projects. She is my supporter, my best friend and I wouldn’t trade her for the world. I also want to thank Sonya Pfeiffer for believing in me when she signed me to Elder Gallery.

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