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Fred Eversley, Howard University, and World Building from the Inside Out

In 2018, artist Fred Eversley was invited to Howard University to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award in Three-Dimensional Art for his contributions to American sculpture and world building. At that time, Howard was also reckoning with its own limitations that, even as a site of inclusion, humanitarianism, and social progress specifically in the betterment of Black people, required self-awareness and self-correction. Eversley entered Howard during a moment of palpable tension and disillusion, as conflicts between students and administration had swelled to a historic eight-day student occupation of the administration building in response to an insufferable financial aid and housing crisis. Students also used the opportunity to demand reformations such as self-representation on the Board of Trustees, disarmament of campus police, and accountability to the local community in combating food insecurity and gentrification. In the nature of landmark events, this protest coincided with Howard University’s 29th annual James A. Porter Colloquium on African American Art: the leading forum of scholarship in the field of Black American art traditions. This meant that for a specific intersection of students, the usual back and forth between class and one’s dorm, was replaced by running between monumental programs such as a Chakaia Booker guest studio critique, and sleeping on the floor of the former administrative building, momentarily known as the Kwame Ture Student Center. Within the walls of the center, a culture, akin to that which students hoped the campus could one day reflect, was cultivated. Participants had access to free food, shelter, workshops, and even a community art gallery to meditate upon the shared experience. Attention was centered around nurturing immigrant and LGBTQ+ students to ensure that underprivileged and underrepresented groups were respected and validated in their own specific needs and experiences. They used a space that had previously marginalized and underserved them to materialize their own dreamscape. At this moment, museums are emphasizing and taking advantage of the opportunity to reevaluate their structuring and invest in more equitable and inclusive relationships in service to their communities. Institutions, both as a result of internal and external pressures, are being asked to reconcile traditions of exclusion and erasure, and to realign their missions in anticipation of the future. This act of appealing to the potential of a more utilitarian society requires the most critical assets of empathy, imagination, and scope beyond the tangible circumstances of the present. One can even make a case that such a society can be found through the looking glass of Fred Eversley’s work.

Informed by his work at NASA and expertise in high-intensity energies, Fred Eversley creates objects that, through multi-sensory designs, transport viewers to a shared dreamscape: a world almost identical to the previous, but just, perhaps, better. These artworks harness positive light and acoustic energy to open spaces of universal joy and collective imagination. To look through Big Red Lens, a popular favorite work in the Crystal Bridges collection, is to see possibilities of equal access, equal visibility, and social wellness with the potential to impact realities beyond the museum grounds. “My principal goal in making art is that it should be of universal appeal, understanding and relevance, to all humanity, through the use of energy and energy concepts,” said Eversley.

Fred Eversley’s reception of a Lifetime Achievement Award paid homage not only to his work but to the multiplicity of his legacy. He is a pioneer among Black abstractionists and redefined sculptural practice by activating other disciplines to communicate his own humanitarianism. His achievements in both the fields of physics and fine arts establish his position in Black history and celebrate his personal resilience while maintaining an integral worldview of connecting all people through positive energy spaces.

While the juxtaposition of Fred Eversley’s artistic intention and the contestable operations of the institution that celebrated him seemed largely lost on the university’s administrators, it poses a compelling analogy. There are microcosms of safety, visibility, and inclusion all around us, created by those who have been largely neglected. Whether they exist in times of agitation, our relationships, or even objects, they serve as blueprints for the larger environment. In the pursuit of a more progressive and sustainable trajectory, cultural institutions can express appreciation for their represented artists, underrepresented staff members, and local community for fundamental insights into their evolution. Eversley’s artworks create dimensions of universality and collective wellness—principles that were not intended to be confined to their material objects but to occupy and transcend the spaces that celebrate them. As we enjoy Big Red Lens, we can expand the scope of the world we see through it, into the world that we work to create.

Written by Kikesa Kimbwala DeRobles, Howard University BFA, interpretation intern, Crystal Bridges.

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