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Annual exhibit celebrating African American culture returns to downtown Indy

The Eighteen artist collective are featured in this year's Meet the Artists exhibit at Central Library.

INDIANAPOLIS — An annual exhibit celebrating Indianapolis' prominent African American artists is back at Central Library.

Indy has seen their work before. The Eighteen artists helped paint the Black Lives Matter mural on Indiana Avenue in 2020. The like-minded artists focus on taking a stand against racial injustice through their work. Now, they are showcasing their art at the 2022 Meet the Artists exhibit at the Indianapolis Public Library's downtown branch.

"This was some of the best artwork I have seen, but there was no exposure. I didn't hear about it on the TV, radio or read about it. It was kind of up for doing Black History Month," said founder and curator Anthony Radford. "Here we are, 34 years later, this is probably the biggest exhibit for African American artists in the city now. Bringing light to African American artists and that's what this exhibit has been about for 34 years."

Gary Gee has three works of art at Central Library.

"I guess I'm a lifelong artist," Gee said. Since I was like 4 or 5, I would draw and everything. When I was in the sixth grade, my mom decided to give me a real art kit."

After earning a degree at the Herron School of Art and Design, Gee now teaches. He said art can be a release for people — a way to emotionally, culturally and creatively convey messages.

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"My heart is being paid. So, I love it," said The Eighteen Art Collective President Deonna Craig. "I get my first thoughts out, and I throw a little color and then maybe some words, just to kind of jog my memory or to start a conversation when the viewers see it."

One of Craig's pieces is hieroglyphics.

"I wanted to kind of tell an origin story, and the three pieces that I did are teachable moments. So, we can talk about history," Craig said. "We're just wanting to bring people together in the name of art."

With 18 artists featured in the exhibit, Gee said his work needed to stand out.

"I saw this kid on a rainy day. He was walking real regal. He had a suit on and a turban and an umbrella, and it was raining," Gee said. "Something about that kid was like, this is going to be a piece, and I just sketched it on the canvas and just let it come to life on its own."

RELATED: Indianapolis’ Black Lives Matter: The Art of Protest coming to Children's Museum

Gee hopes his artwork makes visitors think.

"Just kind of stop, pause and take a moment to engage with it and see what you see sometimes," Gee said.

Craig said she hopes to bridge the gaps with equity and racial justice through her work.

"I want people to walk away with, 'Why do I feel the way that I feel and what am I doing to better the community alongside these artists?'" Craig said.

The exhibit will run through April 2.