RENAISSANCE MAN:<br />
Melvin Van PeeblesMakes Visual Art Debut

Melvin Van Peebles

Melvin Van Peebles has virtually taken on every career imaginable including being a novelist, journalist, director, playwright, actor, rapper and musician. Now on the cusp of turning 81-years-old he is ready to introduce the world to his new title: visual artist. Van Peebles will serve as the anchor of the exhibition, eMerge 2.0: Melvin Van Peebles & Artists on the Cusp, which runs September 19 - November 7 at Strivers Gardens Gallery in Harlem [full disclosure: writer is co-curator of the exhibition].

Van Peebles, who is primarily known for his landmark 1971 film, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, will display an original artwork and two rarely seen paintings from his private collection. The latter were created by George Helton, deceased husband of Isabel Taylor-Helton, designer of Van Peebles' museum-like Manhattan apartment, which is home to the paintings, illustrations, and sculptures Van Peebles has completed over the years.

"My life and career is defined by the constant pursuit of new forms of culture and self-expression," he says. "I am excited to finally share publicly another passion of mine, visual art, while lending support to the advancement of some really amazing new talent.”

eMerge 2.0  will also feature works by 11 early career art makers who primarily transform such everyday objects as thumbtacks, clothing buttons and vinyl records. “eMerge 2.0 examines a nexus between contemporary and popular culture,” says Lisa D. Hayes, manager of Strivers Gardens Gallery and co-curator of the exhibition. “Because of its liberal use of found objects, I consider this a ‘green’ visual arts exhibition."

Entrepreneur, Taneshia Nash Laird, shares Van Peebles’ life theme of reinvention. She is co-owner of the $21 million cultural and entertainment center, MIST Harlem, which opened earlier this year with her late husband Roland Laird as founding CEO. While still healing from her husband’s transition she has decided to embark upon a new chapter, and she’s got a heavy hitter by her side. Via her Trenton, NJ based firm Legacy Business Advisors she has recently joined forces with James Worthy Enterprises, founded by three-time NBA championship winner and seven-time NBA All-Star, James Worthy. Together they will work with companies to help them enhance sales and marketing initiatives, improve company culture and teamwork, and promote community relations.

So what exactly does a NBA legend know about business consulting services? Well, Worthy may surprise you since his background includes being a senior vice president for a California-based integrated marketing-services and product-manufacturing company. You’ve got a formidable team once you combine that with Laird’s twenty years of experience in successfully turning around a wide variety of businesses. So let the games begin.

Fill up a glass, loosen your belt and get ready to shake, stomp and sweat with the musical project, Harlem’s Big Otis Jump Up Blues Revue when it premieres this week on August 15 for a limited run at Ginny’s Supper Club located downstairs at the popular, Red Rooster Harlem. Otis Sallid, the creator of Broadway’s hit show Smokey Joe’s Café, is the brainchild of this tribute to the music of Big Joe Turner, Julia Lee, Duke Ellington and the many others that defined the speakeasy culture of the Harlem Renaissance.

To bring the joint to life, Sallid has enlisted the talents of a cast including Eugene Fleming, singer/actress Lillias White and Grammy nominee Tamar Davis. The project is a labor of love for the Harlem native that developed his first dance company at Lenox Terrace, home to some of New York’s political power players. Sallid hopes that by telling the story of Harlem’s famed past audiences will see reflections of their own modern lives.

“This show is more than a walk down memory lane. It is musical revue that speaks about love, life, heartbreak, hope, sadness and jealousy,” he says. “These ideas transcend race and transcend nostalgia. It becomes more of an idea about a culture that speaks to the past and to the present. It is my interest to speak to all people through my culture. Many of the values and attitudes that are in my show are in us all.”

With this week’s features it’s clear that one of the great abilities in us all is the strength, courage and energy to reinvent ourselves at any stage in life.

The weekly column, On the “A” w/Souleo, covers the intersection of the arts, culture and entertainment scene in Harlem and beyond and is written by Souleo, founder and president of event/media content production company, Souleo Enterprises, LLC.