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Arts & Culture

‘Legacies’ Worthy of Art

Stamp Gallery Exhibit Focuses on Black and Queer Terps

By Sala Levin ’10

“Resilience Through Art: Black Legacies at UMD”

Photos courtesy of Stamp Gallery

In “Resilience Through Art: Black Legacies at UMD,” on display now at Stamp Gallery, alumni artists celebrate the influence of Black and queer Terps; author N.K. Jemisin M.Ed. ’97, below, is one of the UMD graduates depicted in a mural-style painting.

From an acclaimed science fiction writer to a pioneering figure in the field of African American art to a drag performer/activist, Black and queer people hailing from the University of Maryland have left an impression on the world that’s celebrated in a new exhibit at the Stamp Gallery. 

“Resilience Through Art: Black Legacies at UMD,” open through July 9, features mural-style portraits of three UMD alums and one faculty member: Elaine Johnson Coates ’59, the first Black woman to earn a bachelor’s degree at UMD; best-selling author N.K. Jemisin M.Ed. ’97, a recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant; Chicago-based drag performer Miss Toto ’14 (Rock Evans), also a competitive bodybuilder and activist in Black and queer communities; and the late David Driskell, a famed artist, influential scholar of Black art and Distinguished University Professor at the university for many years.

Mural of N.K. Jemisin M.Ed. ’97“So much of this school owes its focus to queer and Black people,” said Kamryn Hoag ’21, who curated the exhibit as part of an honors thesis in art history. “We really wanted to do something that would showcase that.”

Hoag tapped friends Hunter Jones ’20 and Ericka Njeumi ’20 to help. Jones painted the four-panel mural, which can be separated into individual panels five feet tall and four feet wide or displayed as a whole. Njeumi recorded the process on video as Jones painted—first in Hoag’s home and then in an office on campus. The resulting 15-minute film is part of the exhibit.

The three discussed which members of the UMD community would be appropriate subjects for the piece. The four they settled on represent a diversity of experiences, interests and ages. Miss Toto, a former UMD cheerleader, also contributed a video documenting their journey from Chicago to Cumberland, Md., to reunite with their mother for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

Jones used Maryland colors—red, yellow, black and white—to give the pieces a cohesion and to serve as a blank slate of sorts on which the individuality of those represented could shine.

“We really tried to get a variety of Black alumni just to show that the Black diaspora is very large and very diverse,” said Jones. “We don’t all look the same, we don’t have the same interests or career goals. I wanted people to see (the people in the mural) as just people who did amazing things.”

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