Amber Art & Design Focuses on Community Engagement, Social Change

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  • keir
  • lafrontera
    Photo by Steve Weinik
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    Courtesy of Amber Art & Design
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    Photo by Jenny Lee Mass
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    Photo by Taji Nahl
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    Photo by Taji Nahl
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    Photo by Taji Nahl
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Violent events are inspiring a performance by Philadelphia-based Amber Art & Design at The Galleries at Moore College of Art & Design.

“The props that are being exhibited were from a series of performances that Keir Johnston and I collaborated on called Push/Pull,” said Ernel Martinez, one of five members of Amber Art. “And we’ve done several performances in different locations, originally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which was in reference to the Tulsa massacre of 1921.” The performance November 30 will also incorporate the MOVE bombing in Philadelphia in 1985.

The collective uses objects as a means of facilitating conversations about reconciliation, inequities within our society and the contributions African Americans have made to the United States through their long history of labor.

“Keir and I use our bodies as props as well,” Martinez said. “Sometimes we use costumes and we take on different characters.”

One performance was called Cleaning the Mansion.

“We dressed in butler attire, and we actually collected trash in North Philadelphia lots and put it in sacks the same way that Africans did,” he said. “A lot of the work we do comes from the history of a community.”

The members of the collective all have backgrounds in public art. Martinez was born in Belize and was raised in South Central Los Angeles and Detroit who has lived in and near Philly for the last 20 years. He was introduced to art through graffiti. He has worked with many partners on producing murals and public art in Philadelphia and around the U.S. Johnston studied fine art at California State University at Northridge. He’s been an advocate on many social issues and community groups and has worked with life inmates at state penitentiaries, elderly, youth in detention centers, and mentally and physically disabled people and the general public through teaching workshops.

Other members include Charles Barbin, Willis ‘Nomo’ Humphries and Linda Fernandez. They work with individuals, organizations and leaders dedicated to making positive, lasting and sustainable changes within their community. The name Amber Art comes from the street in Philadelphia where the group’s old studio was located.

 “We were all struggling artists and had the opportunity to share a studio space,” Martinez said. “Our first collaboration as a group was the Roots mural,” a painted wall depicting the hip-hop band The Roots located one block west of Broad Street on South.

Their performance at The Galleries is part of the Bodyworks exhibition and is free and open to the public, and will take place in The Levy Gallery for the Arts in Philadelphia November 30, 6:30 – 8 pm.

Published on November 8th, 2017