The Sumei Multidisciplinary Arts Center was founded in 1993 by a collective of musicians, architects, poets, graphic designers, visual and fine artists interested in broadening their reach within the local Newark, New Jersey area and beyond. Sumei Art Center hosts national and international exhibits, workshops for children and adults, lectures, cultural education, artist workshops, presentations, and programs and music from the many different cultures that make up our diverse country.
OUR HISTORY Begins with "HAVANA/NEWARK"
Sumei began as a jazz hangout for local jazz musicians and artists from 1992 – 1995. Our first major exhibition was entitled Havana/Newark, showcasing a group of Cuban artists living in Havana who were in need of a venue for exposure. Ben Jones, a well known African American artist brought Elio Rodriguez to the studio where artists and musicians spent their leisure time and introduced them to Yoland Skeete. Yoland recognized the need for both exiled Cuban artists and artists living in Cuba to interact. Because of the politics of the time, no other venue was interested in reaching out to these artists. Using her photographic studio Yoland provided a forum for discussion and reconciliation of Cuban artists in the US and in Cuba. For the next five years, with several trips to Cuba to bring back the works of Cuban artists, Yoland Skeete and Hal Laessig, made this exhibit an annual presentation of multidisciplinary arts by Cuban and Cuban American artists. With permission from the US and Cuba, artists living in Cuba were invited to visit and lecture on their specialties, and meet with curators and collectors. As a result, interest in Cuban art grew to what it is today.
"AFRICAN ART AS A NURTURING FORCE"
After the Cuban artist program, African Art as a Nurturing Force, ran for several years. This exhibit combined artifacts from the Eric Robertson Collection of African Arts with the visual art works of Willie Cole, Ujima Majied, Yoland Skeete, and several local artists, poetry presentations of famed American poet Amiri Baraka, Yictove, and local poets and lectures by authors like Babatunde Lawal author of The Gelede Spectacle: Art, Gender, and Social Harmony in African Culture. Our exhibits included panel discussions, music, and dance.
As a natural progression, the Sumei Center began to host presentations of music and theatre from different cultures, and international art exhibits from Africa, the Caribbean, and other parts of the world. Today, the Sumei Center has expanded to offer workshops, artists in residence programs, artist promotion, and more.
"THE BELKIS AYON PRINT BIENNIEL"
In 1999 with the death of famed Cuban printmaker and Sumei supporter Belkis Ayon, Sumei created the print biennial that has run every other year for five years. The exhibits were juried and curated by the print departments of the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Newark Museum.
The print biennial took place every other Spring and presented the works of master printers and emerging print makers printing in the traditional style. The bienniel exhibition became a standing program of the organization and the international print world.
NEWARK CHINATOWN HISTORY
In 2000, Sumei received a grant from NJPAC – Mellon Fund to begin research on the Newark Chinatown history. At that time no one had known or remembered that Newark had, at one time, a thriving population of Chinese immigrants. The following year a grant from The Council on the Humanities was received to continue research and documentation of the history and stories of this community. During the following years this project grew with Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation support and Sumei commissioned the Chinese artist Ye Xun to produce models of what the old Chinatown looked like.
Artist Ye Xun worked for 1 year to produce a detailed model of one side of the Mulberry Street area and then, with the help of another Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation grant, the following year he created the second side of this street as it was during the heyday of Newark Chinatown. This work and the artist’s records and research have become a part of the archive of Newark Chinatown. From 1999 to 2007 – Sumei and Verizon Foundation sponsored a reunion of the Newark Chinatown elders and a celebration of Asian American art and culture. This work has become a part of The Asian Pacific American Institute Archives at NYU and is housed at Tamimant Library. Artifacts of items from an archaeological dig of Newark Chinatown and collections from families of Newark Chinatown are available for viewing by appointment at Sumei Art Center.
Sumei Center has developed its own collection of art work that has been donated by artists and other organizations. This collection includes eighteenth and nineteenth century religious carvings and tapestries from Yoruba culture in Nigeria, works by contemporary American and African American artists, and works by contemporary Cuban and Cuban American artists.
Today Sumei Art Center continues its work with artists, the adults and children of its community at large and with international art organizations and artists in Europe and Taiwan.