In a storefront cozily tucked into a nook on West Philly’s Baltimore Avenue, a former tattoo shop now serves as a nurturing space for LGBTQ artists and activists of color.
MOVES Gallery is enriched with work from black women artists such as Kara Mshinda, whose dense collages evocatively depict distorted faces in an avalanche of newspaper clippings, frayed and affected tissue paper and other ephemera; and Jasmine Hamilton, whose art features striking, spectrally melanated bodies in empowering poses.
While these depictions are serious, there’s an air of playfulness and unbridled joy in the space — a loungy black couch acts as the centerpiece as is flanked by art tables and supplies. Photos of queer black and brown bodies in motion adorn the walls. Among them are radical trans activist Marsha P Johnson and singer Grace Jones.
MOVES was inspired by other black-owned art spaces like Urban Art Gallery, Art Department and Life Do Grow Urban Farm, whose joint venture party JUICE has been successfully carving out space for marginalized audiences to dance, feel free and heal through music and art.
According to MOVES co-director Daiyon Kpou, the idea behind the gallery is to “create an affirming space for black and brown queer people to manifest and reflect, to hopefully lead to greater success.”
The space opened April 27 with performances that included Ashley Davis, DJ Jamz and Hyped-Up Reese and art from Hamilton and Mshinda, as well as Jaq Masters and Naima Merella. With the kinetic energy of an open-mic poetry slam but the intention of centering voices that often get misunderstood and underserved, the opening set the tone for meeting MOVES’ core goals.
As a pop-up, MOVES is set to close June 15, but while in West Philadelphia, according to Kpou, the gallery wants to present African-American art “as a means to reclaim space in the face of gentrification.”
Events still on the calendar include the Womanist Working Collective’s Replenish: Black Joy Healing Space, designed to connect art to cultural healing and joy for black women; Tea and Tunes curated by Merella on May 26 to celebrate QTPOC healing through herbs and music; and a film festival featuring shorts from black auteurs.
A quick walk up and down Baltimore Ave., and it’s clear that the area has changed — from a self-sustaining, mostly black neighborhood to one where hip fusion restaurants and crystals have taken over.
However, the MOVES Gallery, even if temporary, provides a nurturing space for queer black arts.
MOVES Gallery is located at 4920 Baltimore Ave. For more information visit movesphilly.com.