Asha Prihar

Students, faculty, staff and visitors passing through the hallways of the Divinity School will now be greeted by a series of activism-centric artwork featuring both abstract art and photography that display the narratives of people of color.

Installed last Saturday, the “Audacious Agency” exhibit celebrated its debut at a reception held Thursday evening in the School’s Old Common Room. Organized by a group of five artists led by Rev. Shelley Best DIV ’00, the exhibit aims to showcase the stories of people of color through different artists who all use a variety of media styles.

“We’re all into various social causes,” said Andre Rochester, one of the artists in the group. “There are a lot of different things represented, within just the five artists that we are, that we wanted to pull it all together visually and have something to represent. We want to do something that evokes a certain level of emotion in our viewers and gets them to have those conversations with people they don’t know, and maybe find some answers to some of the problems we face.”

The group is comprised of Best, Rochester, Patrick “Rico” Williams, Keith Claytor and Zulynette. Each member of the group, not all of whom are affiliated with Yale, took a unique approach in their work.

Claytor’s photography of the Ghanan district of Jamestown documents positive moments in the daily life of individuals in the community. Both Williams and Best present their thoughts on canvas. Williams, a writer, presents phrases from his written work on his canvas, while Best, a painter, explores the social construct of blackness by presenting a range of skin colors on hers. Meanwhile, Rochester’s paintings convey sometimes provocative social messages such as statements about police brutality, and Zulynette, also a painter, works with themes of empowerment, womanhood, magic and spirituality to explore her own various identities in her art.

Rather than feeling attached to a particular work of art in the exhibit, Williams said he enjoys the cohesion of the pieces and the overlapping nature of their themes.

The artists told the News that they hope the art collection will provoke conversation among its viewers.

“There are pieces in this body of work that might agitate, there are pieces that might push some buttons,” Claytor said. “But that isn’t a bad thing as long as the takeaway from it can be constructive conversation — conversation that might build something instead of tearing something down.”

Williams said that he is glad that an exhibit at Yale represents the narratives of people of color — something that is often lacking from universities that are not historically black, he said. He said he hopes that others are inspired by the work and are encouraged to “multiply” it by creating their own.

Best said the artist group chose the Divinity School as the setting for the exhibit’s debut because of the dedication to activism demonstrated by many of the School’s community members. She noted that the artwork is also a way to encourage people to think outside the context of a traditional ministry setting.

“This is an experience of preaching without words,” Best said. “I think right now, in the midst of all the crises people have and all of the drama, people are tired of words. People are tired of speeches and articles. And so we’re activists — we are speaking something without the words, and it touches the heart in another way.”

Yale Divinity School Director of Communications Tom Krattenmaker said the School’s decision to take on the exhibit was as simple as “hearing the proposal, giving it a tiny bit of thought, and saying yes.”

Reception attendee Andrea Reeves said she understands how the exhibit got the title of “audacious,” noting that the works in the exhibit were bolder than she expected them to be. Reeves added that she believes there should be “a lot more space” in society for the messages the artists expressed.

“It really is extraordinarily important for there to be a place for this kind of voice, a variety of artists, and for them to be able to express themselves without fear,” she said.

David Sierra, a Hartford-based photographer and another attendee at the opening reception, said the work in the exhibit gave him a sense of peace.

“I think the message I take away from the exhibit is peace and following your dreams and being happy,” Sierra said. “All the pieces seem to have that same theme in a way, as far as changing the world and making it a better place.”

“Audacious Agency” will leave the Divinity School in February 2019. Afterwards, it will tour Connecticut — with exhibitions planned in Torrington, Windsor, Plainville and Hartford — while also making a stop in Brooklyn, New York. According to Best, the group has also received inquiries from venues in Bridgeport and Norfolk interested in displaying the work.

The Yale Divinity School is located at 409 Prospect St.

Asha Prihar | .

Asha Prihar served as managing editor of the News during the 2019-20 academic year. Before that, she covered community service, Yale's professional schools and undergraduate student life as a staff reporter. She is a senior in Silliman College studying political science.