Creative Fusion Outcomes: Reconnecting in Cleveland: Cheikhou Ba at Framed Gallery

Works of Cheikhou Ba, currently on view at Framed Gallery include: Love Is Not the Answer!

Cheikhou Ba came to Cleveland from Dakar, Senegal, as part of the Creative Fusion cohort in Fall 2013. Hosted by Zygote Press, he worked with students in the Sisterhood after-school arts program at the West Side Community House, with Cleveland-based artist April Bleakney. To create an exhibit opportunity, Zygote connected with Waterloo Arts, which presented Cheikhou’s work in their Waterloo Road gallery.

In the ensuing years, the Waterloo Arts District has blossomed with new arts ventures, among them a new commercial gallery dealing in works by African American and African artists: Framed Gallery. When Framed hosted CAN Journal’s winter issue networking event late last year, we were delighted and surprised to see Cheikhou Ba’s colorful works on the wall.

Framed Gallery Proprietor Stacey Bartels remembers Cheikhou’s work from his time in Cleveland. She had also seen it in London and Switzerland, years before she opened her gallery in 2018. Then last summer, artist and curator Liz Maugans—who was executive director at Zygote Press during Cheikhou’s residency—reminded Bartels of the artist’s vividly colorful paintings. “I like the abstractness, and I like very colorful things. He paints not on traditional canvas but on fabric. I really like that about his work,” she said. “So I reached out by email. He said he had a nice time in Cleveland.”

Ba’s works blend figures with abstraction, sometimes leaning more one way or the other, but always with plenty of color. Speaking of a 2019 exhibition in London (which was cut short due to visa restrictions), Ba said, “My paintings consider fundamental existential questions. Who we are? When are we? How many identities are there in one self? What are the limits of our ignorances? What makes us who we are? Are we all immigrants since nobody is from here?”

The works Bartels remembered had been sold, but Cheikhou sent other examples of his paintings and a series of sculpture. Bartels has sold several of his pieces to buyers outside the Cleveland area.

These days, Bartels says the artist has mostly been working from home in Dakar, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The artist’s statement for his Creative Fusion residency exhibit in 2013 at Waterloo Arts is as relevant now as it was then:

I have come to love this beautiful city of Cleveland and dream of seeing more underrepresented people reaching galleries, museums and theaters. I would like to go to the football game and not see the people reduced to the demeaning task of serving others, as the vendors of beer and sandwiches. I dream of a united and solid city.

My dream for Cleveland is to see this great city have a brilliant future by bringing in more color to this country. I would like to slightly alter the Honorable Mayor Frank Jackson’s words when he says: “Cleveland needs to be where the world is going, not where the world is.” With respect to the mayor, I would add, “Cleveland needs to be where the world should be, not where the world is going”.