Steve Prince's art discusses how the past and present remain in constant conversation with each other

The stark contrast of black and white can be seen all over the Stryker Center. The colors form images of black people as lovers, activists and simply human beings.

They’re part of the College of William and Mary’s Muscarelle Museum of Art’s artists in residence and director of engagement Steve Prince’s newest exhibition “Sankofa: Looking Back, Moving Forward.”

As director of engagement for the Muscarelle, Prince sees this exhibit as another extension of his role.

“On one level, I get to go out and teach people and share with them information about the Muscarelle Museum, but on another level they get to know I am a working artist and see the craft that I create,” Prince said.

“Not everyone feels like they can come to a museum,” said Melissa Parris, head of collections and exhibitions management for the Muscarelle. “Some people feel sort of intimidated, or ‘oh I’m not a member of the museum,’ … but here it’s in a public sphere. This exhibition is free but also they get to learn a little bit more about the museum.”

Prince said the title of his art show, Sankofa, is a Ghanan word referring to a mythical bird that looks into the past in order to move forward.

“So the images I’ve selected for this exhibition are reflective of some of these ideas of looking back in terms of historically but also about who we can be,” Price said. “So I believe some of these pieces represented us going forward and seeing us in a beautiful light.”

One example of this is his piece “Rosa Sparks.” While Rosa Parks is at the front of the bus wearing armor, in the back of the bus are events that have happened in the past 10-15 years.

“So symbolically, I’m using a bus to say ‘yes that’s what happened in 1955, that’s what they fought, but we have things we’re continuing to fight for in the back of the conceptual bus,’” Prince said. “And it’s a call to continue to put on that armor of God and also to go out boldly, collectively and fight against injustice wherever it stands.”

Even though Prince creates his pieces based on his own experiences as an African American man, Prince said he ultimately makes his artwork for the community.

“A lot of my work is reflective of my African American experience, but that’s not within a vacuum,” Prince said. “That is an experience that is within the context of living in America.”

While he has a handful of drawings on display, most of Prince’s work in the show is print work.

“(Printmaking) really ties into my own personal politics and my own faith,” Prince said. “I have the opportunity very much like a Martin Luther who uses the 95 theses and the Gutenberg press, which is a printmaking form, and disseminating information to hundreds of thousands of people. I like to think of printmaking in the same realm — that I have the ability to make prints speak to multiple people, multiple audiences.”

Because of the messages in all his pieces, Prince hopes people take a deeper look at his work.

“Once you get past that surface element of the beauty, you delve even deeper within in (the art) and begin to peel back the layers and the stories and the messages that are embedded in there,” Prince said. “No matter how heavy the message may be … it ultimately expresses hope, it ultimately expresses love and care for the community and I’m hoping people will feel that spirit within my work.”

However, Prince will not make the art do all the talking. He will be at the Stryker Center on May 13-17 for “Artist Under Glass,” where people will be able to talk to Prince and ask questions about his pieces.

While Prince will be there for people to interact with, Parris said he will also be working on the last drawing for the exhibition.

Other than the exhibition, Prince is engaging the greater Williamsburg community through his art project “the Links.”

For this piece, people create woodblock puzzle pieces which will ultimately form the large image of a chain being linked together. A steam roller will roll across the final print the first week in November.

Prince will host workshops both at the Muscarelle and at pop-up sites throughout the community. Locations for the workshops include churches, community centers and local businesses.

“I want to demystify the space where we can make art, because I believe art can be made anywhere,” Prince said.

Prince said the piece commemorates the 400th anniversary of the first Africans who arrived at Point Comfort.

“I’m using the chain as a metaphor that only alludes to enslavement or incarceration, but I’m using the chain as symbol or metaphor for our interconnectedness,” Prince said. “The connections that we have that transcend race, that transcend class, gender that connect us ... as human beings.

Want to go?

“Sankofa: Looking Back, Moving Forward" is on display until June 12, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Stryker Center, 412 N Boundary St. Free.

Prince will be at the exhibit May 13-17, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday and Friday; 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday. Free.

For updates on art workshops with Prince, visit

Heymann can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828 or on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia.

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