John Baker (American, born 1964), Julia Bottoms (American, born 1988), Chuck Tingley (American, born 1983), and Edreys Wajed (American, born 1974)
The Freedom Wall, 2017
Background Information for Educators
About the Art
The Freedom Wall, installed at the corner of Michigan Avenue and East Ferry Street in Buffalo, features portraits of 28 notable civil rights leaders from America’s past and present, created by Buffalo-based artists John Baker, Julia Bottoms, Chuck Tingley, and Edreys Wajed. The list of subjects, as well as the team of artists, were informed by multiple public meetings with community members. No group of 28 individuals could ever possibly encompass the national and local history of civil rights, but the selection and order of the final 28 subjects here shapes a unique story about civil and human rights work in American history, with an eye toward contextualizing national work and local impact.
About the Artists
John Baker is a nationally recognized artist, curator, and educator from Buffalo. Baker is a natural storyteller and designs his images to elicit emotional responses and to inspire viewers to learn more about the subject matter at hand. As an artist, Baker has executed murals, participated in solo and group exhibitions locally and nationally, and has engaged diverse communities in a dedicated and lifelong effort to share the value of cultural production. In addition, Baker is a multitalented curator and educator. He has developed exhibitions with numerous institutions, and his curatorial practice is focused on providing unique visitor experiences, supporting dynamic outreach opportunities, and encouraging inquiry-based learning for all audiences. Baker is a long-celebrated activist for artists in Western New York, often providing young artists with their inaugural opportunities for workshops and exhibitions. His tireless support of other artists' practices has led to his recent advancement as president of the newly formed Western New York Urban Arts Collective, a group assembled to provide mutual support for representation in the region, especially for underserved artists and artists of color.
Julia Bottoms is a Buffalo-based artist who creates realistic and recognizable representations, using portraiture to give a glimpse of people of color as sensitive, sincere, and multi-faceted—characteristics that the artist feels are often missing in mainstream portrayals. Bottoms has previously focused on depictions of men in part because she feels there is a “certain level of expressive privilege often denied to men by our culture.” This situation allows her the freedom to explore and deviate from notions of accepted, but deeply flawed, racial stereotypes and distorted gender roles. Recently her work has slightly expanded to encompass aspects of character in general. Bottoms feels that in a culture that so often markets reductive representations of the beauty, grace, and intellect of people of color, it is necessary to produce and promote nuanced and constructive images that actively break that cycle. Bottoms proudly asserts, “People of color have been trapped in someone else’s narrative for too long, and when we have tried to write our own, we have often been erased from the mainstream’s history books. I believe it is time for us to use the talents we possess to speak our truth. Our lives are worthy of dialogue.” Bottoms has exhibited regionally, including the Buffalo Arts Studio exhibition "Tinted: A Visual Statement on Color, Identity, and Representation" (April 28–June 2, 2017). Bottoms is the inaugural artist for the Open Buffalo Emerging Artist Series. She is also a contributing writer for AFROPUNK.
Chuck Tingley is a Buffalo-based artist primarily focused on figurative representation in drawing and painting. Tingley’s realistically rendered figures are made dynamic and emotional through the expressionistic application of layers of paint and the inclusion of abstract designs hovering amid diaphanous backgrounds. Tingley hopes that his work connects spiritually and psychologically with his viewers in a way that allows them to plumb their own passions and to build unique narratives based on their individual sensations and perceptions. Tingley’s work has been published in regional publications, such as The Public and Spark Magazine. Solo exhibitions of his work have been presented at the Olean Public Library and El Museo and Hi-Temp Fabrication in Buffalo. He has also been included in group exhibitions at the Burchfield Penney Art Center and the Erie Art Museum in Pennsylvania. Tingley has executed numerous public murals in Western New York, including commissions for Artpark in Lewiston, Glow Gallery in Buffalo, and, most recently, Art Alley in Niagara Falls. In 2015 and 2016, he received Decentralization Grants from the New York State Council on the Arts and in 2016, he was honored by Arts Services Initiative of Western New York as a finalist for the Artist of the Year Spark Cultural Award.
Edreys Wajed is an artist, educator, performer, and entrepreneur based in Buffalo. Wajed’s most recent series of drawings consist of black-and-white line-based portraits. Initially the artist started these expressive yet minimal representations as a daily practice to expand his creative output, and to date he has created more than 700 individual works in this series. Wajed is well known locally as a multi-talented artist expressing his talents through the creation of jewelry, spoken word, music, and educational activities. Wajed has said of his artistic ambition that his “inspiration is to actually BE an inspiration. I want to be an inspiration to others through my thoughts, words and actions.” Wajed’s unyielding positivity and generous spirit result in a visionary practice that is the culmination of a committed and sensitive observation of the world. This provides Wajed with purpose larger than himself; one that he shares generously to inspire those around him to “get real for real results