Black art does not simply illuminate life but establishes a means of understanding it more holistically.
As one of the oldest art galleries on Martha's Vineyard and the only Black owned gallery in Oak Bluffs, Cousen Rose Gallery has amplified the work of artists, especially Black artists, since 1985. Co-founded by painter Stephen Rose and Zita Cousens, the gallery has become a landmark for artists residing in Oaks Bluff to showcase their artwork and authentically express themselves within their community.
EBONY spoke with Zita Cousens, owner and curator of gallery Cousen Rose, an institution on Martha's Vineyard, about the dynamic art scene on the quaint New England island.
EBONY: Given that you are the only Black owned art gallery in Oak Bluffs, how have you witness the growth of the art scene on the island?
Zita Cousens: The art scene in Oak Bluffs has definitely grown. I am part of a group of galleries and we are called Arts in OB. I'm in OB (Oak Bluffs), there is an area in Dukes County that has four galleries, and then up on Circuit Ave, where I'm located, there are three galleries. We developed the collective about two years ago and we support each other. Each gallery is very different. But I think that this has created a sense of community amongst the galleries.
The other thing that I've noticed is that there are a couple of young entrepreneurs who have emerged over the last two or three years in doing art and having an art gallery. That's very new. Within three years, there's been two people of color showing art so it's great to see.
When you're thinking about what artists to bring each season, what does the curation process look like?
First of all, I am a Black entrepreneur and Black business owner but the gallery is not classified as a Black gallery. I don't just curate and sell Black art. So when I look at a season, because this is really a global community, I'm looking to include a wide range of images of different ethnic backgrounds.
I can hear people who pass the gallery saying, "Oh, that's a Black gallery." If they mean that it's Black owned, that's one thing. If they mean that I only have Black art then that's an error. I always point out that distinction because I have a diverse collection. We have diversity in the artists background and in the medium that I present such as oil and watercolor, wood carvings and one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry.
Why is art so significant to the legacy of culture and excellence on this island?
It's important in general. For example, Glen Tunstall, an artist who has been with the gallery for 20 years, does watercolors and oils. Through the years, he has created a history of Black people on the island through his paintings. Ekua Holmes, who was shown in the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston has also portrayed Black people in a very positive light. One of the things I have always done is to look for art and images that portray people of color in a positive way. When I first started out, there was a lot of art that was very negative. That was the artists prerogative but it has been my prerogative to put positive imagery on the walls. I simply wanted positive pieces of Black males, women and families. That has always been a driving force and why art is so important to me.