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Kay Reese & 50 Million African Trees

Sep 06, 2022 - Apr 06, 2023
Kay Reese

Kay Reese, Emergence, 2021, mixed media, 60” x 60”, Courtesy of the artist.



 “The aim of art is to represent not the outward

appearance of things, but their inward significance.”- Aristotle

As an artist/photographer, creating my work I’ve always searched for the inner significance of life and living, especially of Black people on life’s journey.  My creative process involves self-challenges as both an emotional and visual  foray into the unknown of what life’s mysteries are made of. To me, that means using visual abstractions. This was evident in my attempts to make brightly colored abstract crayon drawings at aged 7, and persists to the present day in my mature, colorful, nuanced narratives of “Fifty Million Trees.”

I was inspired by Kenyan activist Wangarĩ Maathai (1940-2011), the first Black, African and Woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for the Environment.  Her founding of the Green Peace Movement was pivotal in the economic growth of Kenyans faced with profound government challenges for women especially, by creating life-giving opportunities.  Maathai once said, “Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking so that humanity stops threatening its life support system. We are called to assist the Earth, to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own, indeed, to embrace the whole of creation in all its diversity, beauty, and wonder. Recognizing that sustainable, democracy and peace are indivisible is an idea whose time has come.” As a visual artist, I was moved to make a new body of work inspired by this remarkable woman. I imagined that the only way I could express her work and life was to eschew traditional representation and use abstract visual language to tell her story of innovation and courage in fighting for women’s rights in Kenya. I felt challenged to express the personal struggle and ultimate triumph of Dr. Wangari’s planting of the life-giving gift of 50 million trees in a community struggling to survive loss of land and resources by malevolent government force. Finally, abstracting my fine art photographs intends to stimulate direct emotional context and content which has self-interpretive meaning and identification for viewers. Through it, I hoped to make a viscerally impactful connection with those facing today’s environmental challenges in our own communities.

This exhibition was curated by Adrienne Wheeler. 

The artist would like to thank the support of the Puffin Foundation

The Paul Robeson Galleries’ programs are supported, in part, by a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, The City of Newark (Creative Catalyst Fund), The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and by private donations.  We are also supported by Express Newark, Robeson Campus Center, and the Cultural Programming Committee, Rutgers University-Newark.

Venue Information Opening Reception
  • Date: Sep 06, 2022 - Apr 06, 2023
  • Location:Paul Robeson Campus Center Gallery
  • Curators:Adrienne Wheeler