Born in 1914 in Philadelphia and raised in Buffalo, Wilhelmina Godfrey was an artist of exceptional skill and vision, working in media that included painting, printmaking, and textiles. Over the course of her more than fifty-year career, her work continuously evolved. Her lifelong contributions as an artist, writer, and educator earned the admiration and respect of many, cementing her legacy within the local arts and African American communities.
Wilhelmina Godfrey: I am what I am is a retrospective look at the artist’s massive portfolio, particularly her extraordinary use of color and theme, as well as the evolution of her work from representative figuration to abstraction. Like many of her contemporaries, Godfrey’s development over her career pushed the bounds of form, color, harmony, and abstraction. This experimentation, paired with her incorporation of African motifs, her experiences, and her observations as a Black woman artist living on the East Side of Buffalo, add important nuance to the canon and the ways in which Black artists have fused their lived realities with their own artistic interests.
Godfrey’s work incorporates significant representations of her cultural identity and lived experience while also dispelling the myth that Black artists–particularly at the height of the Civil Rights, Black Power, and concurrent Black Arts movements–were solely concerned with themes of identity, social justice, and figurative representation. Her work is an exemplar of the ways artists of color have long engaged in formal and aesthetic developments taking place outside the context of identity politics. This is further emphasized by her resistance to being boxed in the category of “black art” and the desire for her work to be considered in context to the larger art community.
The exhibition aims to acknowledge and celebrate the full nuance and humanity of Godfrey’s artistic career and the significance of her work to the region and beyond. In this way, the curatorial scope of the show will emphasize the breadth of Godfrey’s practice, extending beyond her artwork to recognize her research interests in African-American craft as well as her community engagements as an educator. Godfrey, alongside fellow artists James G. Pappas, Clarence Scott, Allie Anderson, and Hal Franklin, founded the Langston Hughes Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, an inner-city arts center that opened in Downtown Buffalo in 1971. The enduring legacy of the Center and its community impact is a testament to the expansive history of Black arts in Buffalo.
This retrospective exhibition provides an exciting research opportunity to locate Godfrey’s works as well as archival material to contextualize her life and practice while bringing unknown examples of her work in our community to light. Individuals who may own a work by Wilhelmina Godfrey are encouraged to contact curator Tiffany Gaines at firstname.lastname@example.org or 716-878-5806. It is through this research we aim to preserve and bring long overdue recognition to the significance of Godfrey’s career both locally and nationally within the art historical record.
Major support for Wilhelmina Godfrey: I am what I am is provided by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.