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UNC graduate displays career of Afrosurrealist work on campus

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Antoine Williams' art exhibit titled, "Something in the Way of Things" is open to the public in Haynes Art Center on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023.

As community members walk by Hanes Art Center, their eyes might gravitate toward the large black and white drawings printed on the walls of the John and June Allcott Gallery.

Visible even from a distance through the glass windows, the drawings are a part of UNC alumnus Antoine Williams’ newest exhibit, "Something in the Way Of Things." 

Some of the collection is based on sketches the artist created throughout different phases of his career. 

Williams graduated from UNC Charlotte in 2003 and received a Master of Fine Arts from UNC-Chapel Hill. He is currently an assistant professor of drawing at the University of Florida.

Williams’ art has been displayed in several venues, including the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, 21c Museum Hotel and Elsewhere Museum. 

His work is often an intersection of speculative fiction, monster theory, surrealism and critical race theory that investigates contemporary Black experiences, according to his artist statement for the gallery.  

“I'm not thinking, 'Oh, let me make this palatable for an audience,'" Williams said. "It's, 'What's the way I can express these ideals that seem relevant and that for me, I haven't seen expressed or toned in this manner?'” 

He said he is influenced by the works of writers such as Saidiya Hartman and James Baldwin, but also "fantastical" writers such as Octavia Butler and H.P. Lovecraft. 

In one of the gallery's pieces, “Other Suns," Williams said that he explored the idea of Black people constantly moving from space to space looking for spaces of liberation, which translated into the creation of multi-limbed organic forms working in perpetual movement.

"Other Suns," like a lot of Williams' earlier work, excludes the faces of characters. Through this technique, he attempts to hint at structural societal issues, rather than call out specific individuals. 

“So if you look at the work, the earlier work is less personable, in terms of showing people, and later work is meant to show an individual personalized and give them a sense of humanity that the archive or history had to deny them,” Williams said. 

Marcus Kiser, a multimedia designer and creative director, has known Williams for around 20 years and is a member of the North Carolina Black Artists for Liberation, which Williams helped found.  

The organization worked to get diversity in museum spaces, and Kiser said that Williams took charge of much of the project.

Kiser is proud of Williams' growth and has always been a big fan of his work. 

“He's always been a revolutionary,” he said. "He's always pushed the envelope. He's always brought awareness to the important issues, even diving into his Afrosurrealism works."

William Paul Thomas, a visiting assistant professor in painting foundations at Guilford College in Greensboro, met Williams in graduate school at UNC. The two immediately clicked through their shared love of hip-hop and the work they did as artists.

“His work examines the sort of broad spectrum of the way that Black peoples' experience have manifested as a result of the conflict of being Black in a predominately white society,” he said.

According to Thomas, the gallery is an opportunity for students to see an artist apply real dedication and intricacy to their craft.

”If we’re used to seeing in an art gallery traditionally, paintings hanging in frames or on stretches on the wall," Thomas said. "The fact that his work is applied directly to the wall and that it's big is something that, especially at the Allcott Gallery, you can see from the outside of the building when you walk past Hanes, on the outside of the building you can see it from a distance. I think it asks students to pause and consider, 'What's different about this?'"

The gallery will be open until October 13 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. Admission is free. 

@melinsophia

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