By Brinda Fuller Willis, PhD
Jackson Advocate Contributing Writer
The largest biannual Open Invitational 21 Art Competition and Exhibit, since the Mississippi Museum of Art opened as a component of the 1911 Mississippi State Fair, culminated Friday, August 13, 2021 with an outdoor gathering of artists and art enthusiasts.
The historic art competition drew a total of 42 visual artists from around the state of Mississippi that span a distance from Waveland to Southaven to Cleveland to Natchez.
The Open Invitational 21 competition was curated by esteemed Danielle Burns-Wilson, an HBCU graduate of Prairie View A&M and the City University of New York (Brooklyn College). She also serves as an adjunct professor of art history and art appreciation at Lone-Star College in Texas and works at the Houston Public Library as Chief Curator. Burns-Wilson said, “Three things stood out to me as I reviewed these works of art that were presented as entries – Resilience, Reckoning, and Reflection of the times we live in and have lived through over the past year, especially with the public murder of George Floyd and Covid-19. This year’s competition had to be different with respect to what the artists’ work would produce.”
For the Open Invitational 21 in Jackson, Burns-Wilson selected 42 artists from a field of over 600 entries to be included in the final highly-competitive competition. Of the 42 finalists, Burns-Wilson chose works that ranged from mixed mediums of cloth, paper, plastics, oil, paint, collages, water colors, metals, dyes and acrylics, charcoal, wood, digital print, epoxy clay, silver gelatin, and even a ballpoint pen that displayed a vast array of diversity and inclusiveness.
Betsy Bradley, Director of the Mississippi Museum of Art, introduced Coulter Fussell as the winner of the Open Invitational 21 Competition, saying, “I am elated at the power, vision, and innovation shown by Coulter and the large network of artists who entered this year’s competition.”
Winner of the Jane Crater Hiatt Artist Fellowship, Fussell is a hand-sewn quilter from Water Valley, Mississippi whose work, according to her, “Includes donated previously used and worn fabrics and textiles given to me by anonymous people in my community and/or by persons who dropped garbage bags off at my doorstep and even people who mailed scraps of materials from faraway places. I got my inspiration from the clues that I found left in the pockets of coats, pants, shirts, and jackets that were love letters, scribbled notes, recipes, photographs, and old grocery lists that gave me insight into the lives of the people who donated fabrics to me. This gave me pause for reflection on what was valuable to them and what is valuable in their lives and mine, especially during the time I spent over the pandemic lockdown last year. I reflected on a sense of dealing with things that are/were out of their and my control in our lives.”
Museum personnel informed the public, “The Hiatt Artist Fellowship was created in 2005 to nurture and invigorate the arts in Mississippi and provides a $25,000 to support an artist in the purchase of supplies, equipment, travel, and research or study with an individual artist in a studio, workshop, and/or residency setting over a two-year period with a donation of one original work of art created during the grant cycle. Only artwork chosen to participate in the Mississippi Invitational exhibition are eligible to apply for the for the Fellowship.”
In a virtual artist panel discussion held Saturday, August 14, 2021, Coulter Fussell said, “I’m not sure at this point what I’ll use the grant funds for. It will take some time to figure out just where I want to travel, but I think I would like to create a work using shadow casting.”
The virtual panel included Lawson King of Indianola (Subconscious Soup & Sunset Dance), Brenden Davis (“I Can Hardly See,” “Wanting to Go,” & Stuck Inside”), and Coulter Fussell (“Home 2020 Quilt”). The panel discussion was hosted by Ryan Dennis and panelists were introduced and interviewed by Burns-Wilson.
Local artist and competition participant Chris Winfield (“Victims of a Pandemic”) and Kara Davis made a date night to come out and enjoy the Friday event. Winfield said, “This is my first exhibit entry here and I am elated to be a part of such an unparallel event that showcases the talent found here in Mississippi.”
Lorenzo Gayden, Sanaa Gallery owner, visual artist, and musician standard bearer introduced Kira Cummings, a fresh face at the competition. Touting Cummings’ skill, exemplified in her work, “All”, it is evident to the writer that Gayden and other observers are drawn to the ability of Cummings to present and share emotions stirred by the daily oppressions that seem to gnaw at her humanity.
The Open Invitational 21 Exhibit admission is free to the public during the month of August and open to the public from August 14, 2021, to November 7, 2021, at the Mississippi Museum of Art, located at 380 S. Lamar Street (Jackson, Mississippi). For additional information, visit msmuseumart.org and/or call (601) 960-1500 and is open Thursdays – Saturdays, 10:00 am – 5 pm and Sundays, Noon-5 pm. General admission: $15/person, $13/seniors and groups of 10+, $10/college students with ID, free for Museum Members, free for children ages 5 and under, and free for K-12 on Thursdays (thanks to Blue Cross of Mississippi). All Covid-19 protocols are followed with masks always required inside the museum and hand-sanitizing stations are located throughout the building.
The Mississippi Museum of Art and its programs are sponsored in part by the City of Jackson and Visit Jackson with additional funding from the Mississippi Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts.