Local artist and Eskenazi Museum of Art faculty member Joii Cooper’s art exhibition “Strong Joy” is open in Bloomington’s City Hall throughout the month of February.
Cooper’s exhibition, which is included on the IU Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center’s event calendar for Black History Month, is free to the public on the first floor of City Hall during their business hours.
“Strong Joy” displays Cooper’s acrylic paintings on canvas, fabric artwork and curated photographs from the public domain. Cooper said the work in the exhibition is meant to depict and spread joy.
“Sometimes people feel like they need permission to be joyful,” Cooper said. “And you don't. It's just a decision that you can make.”
The work in the exhibition was inspired by her personal life and faith, Cooper said. She said the pieces encapsulate who she is mentally and spiritually, and that for her, living joyfully is a way to sustainably deal with life’s issues.
Cooper said she arranged the pieces to look like they were in someone’s home. She said she included a rug, chairs and a table with flowers to make the viewer feel comfortable—and sat the portraits on chairs to make them appear like real, present people. Cooper said she wanted the art to feel accessible.
“Art is very ‘look, but don't touch,’” Cooper said. “But what I'm saying is that I want it to be a full experience. There are these ways in which I tried to creatively give the pieces, which are inanimate objects, give them life, so to speak.”
While she was collecting photographs of African American individuals for the exhibition, Cooper said she noticed that they often weren’t listed with names, locations or any type of personal information about the people in the photographs. To address this, Cooper wrote labels for each of them to pay tribute to the people depicted.
“Since I did not know what their stories were, I chose for their stories to be stories of great triumph and giving them just as much honor as I could give them,” Cooper said.
Another piece in the exhibition, a colorful painting of a young ballerina, is labelled with a short poem written by Cooper, encouraging the viewer to dance as freely as the girl. Cooper said she hopes someone viewing the painting would see it and break out in a small dance.
As a Black History Month event, Cooper said the work in the exhibition is a celebration of people of color. It's also a celebration of people in general, the joy that they feel, and their resilience, Cooper said.
“Yes, this is Black History Month, but this is just the opportunity to explore culture, an opportunity to explore beauty and an opportunity to have conversations,” Cooper said.
Shatoyia Moss, Safe and Civil City director for the Community and Family Resources Department, invited Cooper to display her work in City Hall after seeing it during the Bloomington Black y Brown Arts Festival in summer of 2021.
Moss said “Strong Joy” felt comforting, and reminded her of her childhood growing up in the South.
“It’s an amazing take on Black woman experience,” Moss said. “I really enjoy looking at her work because it just reminds me of my youth, it reminds me of something I would see when I walk into my grandparents’ home.”
Moss said Cooper’s work deserves to be highlighted, and said she hopes people will come out to appreciate the local artist.
“It’s also just a good time to stop in City Hall and recognize that you can get a little bit of Black culture and history in the making in a space that essentially exists within this community,” Moss said.
Due to COVID-19 protocols, all visitors to City Hall are required to wear face coverings and socially distance. Large groups of people are not permitted at this time.