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The Collegian

Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Graphic created by Camille Amezcua
The Collegian’s Jonathan Acevedo speaks to five trailblazing creatives who are leading Fresno’s artistic scene.

Making their marks: 5 inspiring Black creatives are expressing themselves through their art

Every year, Black History Month serves as a reminder of the excellence of Black culture and history. In 2024 alone, there have been numerous landmarks for Black expression. These are five creatives who continue to push the arts forward not just in February, but every month to follow.

Tyler Alcé

Tyler Alcé is currently an art student at Fresno State. (Wyatt Bible)

The start of 2024 has already proven to be a big year for Tyler Alcé. She curated a solo art exhibition “Down With the Clique,” and was involved in Fresno State’s library art gallery “The 559 Edition – African Americans and the Arts.”

Alcé has pushed herself to bring the aspects of her culture that matter to her most to the larger Fresno community and has uplifted so many others in the process.

A large part of Alcé’s artistry is how proudly she wears her inspirations on her sleeve and one of her biggest inspirations is her brother, Julian South. It’s because of South that Alcé got into visual art at all.

“He was the blueprint of everything that I do today. I was his shadow,” Alcé said. “When he was into photography, I did photography. When he worked with clay, I worked with clay.”

South tragically passed away in December 2023, but his impact on Alcé continues to manifest itself. Though she considers herself to be more of a shy and, sometimes, introverted person, South’s passing motivated her to showcase her artwork in a way that she wasn’t before.

“He’s the reason I have a lot of drive right now. He’s the reason why I am a part of a lot of these events,” Alcé said.

“Down With the Clique” will undoubtedly be one of the highlights for Fresno’s art community this year. It gave her the opportunity to showcase her and her brother’s clay work, as well as the work of 15 other local Black creatives. The opening night was a memorable event for guests, featuring spoken word, live music and a DJ set.

Even when naming her exhibition, Alcé wanted to share her inspirations. “Down With the Clique” was named after a song by Solange Knowles of the same name. Alcé cites Knowles as another massive inspiration for her and appreciates what she does for culture.

“Solange [Knowles] has this way of keeping history alive with different artifacts and I really resonate with that, because I too want to keep my history alive,” she said.

Alcé also appreciates Knowles’ multidisciplinary approach to art and is currently working to expand her skill set while attending Fresno State. While she is primarily known for her ceramic work, she hopes to eventually expand into different forms of visual art to keep bringing new stories and educating the community.

Shaq Michelle

Shaq Michelle is a multi-talented individual expressing her creativity in many different forms and mediums. (Photo courtesy of Shaq Michelle)

Stylist, artist, barber and U.S. Navy veteran, Shaq Michelle is a renaissance woman, bringing creativity and expression to Fresno in droves.

Michelle has styled a fashion show for the Just Be Dope clothing brand, has had her art displayed in various galleries, like this year’s “Down With the Clique,” and “The 559 Edition – African Americans and the Arts,” and gets the people looking their best with her haircuts. Though her sense of expression is her greatest strength, it took years of development for her to be proud of it.

“My mother just didn’t like the look I decided to carry,” Michelle said. “She hated that I gave up my femininity, which I didn’t. Right now, I feel like I’m perfectly balanced, 50-50 masculine and feminine.”

Originally from Georgia and growing up in North Carolina, Michelle felt ostracized as a masculine-presenting queer woman in the South. Though she has always maintained the love for her family and appreciates the hard lessons about independence she learned from having to pave her own lane, Michelle eventually decided she needed to get far away from home and enlisted in the Navy.

“I’ve always been against military background and all that stuff, but I was on my last leg and didn’t have the necessary support you’d think you should get to get back on your feet,” Michelle said.

Michelle was then moved to California to make bombs for the Navy. Though making bombs wasn’t how she imagined she’d get there, being in the state after her service gave her the space to pursue whatever endeavors she wanted, the first being barber school.

“I like the flexibility of being a barber. It allows me to work only four days and have the others to myself,” Michelle said. “I’m able to go sunbathing, I can go sit in the grass, and Sundays are my nature days.”

Michelle then began painting and getting more involved with Fresno’s art community. She eventually got her own signature drink, called the “Shaq Fu,” at local eatery, Tower Blendz. While filming Instagram Reels to promote the drink, she met fellow artist Tyler Alcé, who later invited her to participate in the aforementioned art exhibitions.

In terms of fashion, Michelle is regularly posting looks on her Instagram that challenge sentiments about what styles are masculine and feminine. She began styling for people who would reach out to her, eventually being asked by the Just Be Dope brand to style over 20 people for a fashion show and showcasing her personal styling prowess at the “Styled By Fulton” competition.

Though there were times when Michelle felt misunderstood, she always understood herself and has found the success she has by trusting in herself.

“Little me is so happy and proud and she wants me to keep going. She feels liberated,” Michelle said.

Joshua Slack

Besides being a recognized face in Fresno State theatre productions as a student and alum, Joshua Slack made his directorial debut with ‘The Brother’s Size.’ (Photo courtesy of Joshua Slack)

Joshua Slack is a photographer, actor and director who seeks to capture the inherent beauty of humanity and the beauty of his culture.

Slack got his start as a photographer near the end of his freshman year at Fresno State, taking photos of friends on his iPhone 4s. As he got more invested and experienced, Slack made connections with other Black students who were into the fashion scene and began shooting fashion shows.

By this point, Slack was all in with photography and wanted to take the next step.

“I had ended up going to a building and I saw that they had a space open, and the first thing I thought was, ‘I should probably open a photo studio,’” Slack said.

Using money he had gotten as COVID-19 relief, Slack made the investment on a space and still uses the studio to this day. A visual motif that Slack subconsciously developed through his studio shoots is the use of flowers as a prop for his portraits.

“I like the representation of flowers being a form of beauty, and I think that it helps accentuate the fact that as human beings, we’re also beautiful in that sense,” Slack said.

While progressing with his photography, Slack was pursuing his degree at Fresno State in theater with an emphasis in acting, as well as a minor in Africana studies. He was involved in numerous productions, but his involvement in “The Pillowman” opened his eyes to the possibility of directing.

After doing a pitch to the Selma Arts Center for a production of “The Brothers Size” by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Slack was given the green light and made his directorial debut.

“In the theater landscape, you don’t have a lot of shows where it’s only Black or African American men,” Slack said. “You never really have one that’s kind of tailored towards Black men, so I wanted to be able to offer that lens for audiences of the Central Valley.”

As Slack has refined his artistry in his various fields, one thing he appreciates about being a Black creative is being able to tell stories that other people can’t and bringing those stories who wouldn’t otherwise hear them.

“It’s a blessing to be a Black creative because you have such a unique viewpoint of the world, a unique experience of the world that not many others are going to be able to tell,” Slack said.

Martin Townsend

Martin Townsend is currently a leading figure for the art collective Paper Crane Arts Center. (Photo courtesy of Martin Townsend)

Martin Townsend has never known a time where art didn’t speak to him. From the age of 5 he was drawing, and exploring whatever creative outlets he could. After moving to the Central Valley from Tennessee, drawing provided a comfortable headspace for him as he adjusted.

“Class just became my practice space for figure drawing, which is interesting because now I do a lot of figure drawing. So I think that muscle memory kicks in a lot,” Townsend said.

A lot of Townsend’s figure work features a distinct, almost sketch-like style that stimulates the eye and demands attention. His art reflects raw and untouched expression, and it shows in every line he produces.

“I like to try and find a figure. As opposed to getting it right the first time, I’d rather make a bold wrong mark than modify that,” Townsend said.

As he developed his skills and became more accustomed to his life in Fresno, Townsend began to realize just how many like-minded people he was surrounded by. He studied art at Fresno City College and through his time there he picked up valuable skills and made meaningful connections that would pave the way for artistic opportunities.

“The Fresno creative community is so broad and diverse, and hardworking that if you show up with a positive attitude and are ready to work, you can’t lose,” Townsend said.

Townsend is currently involved with multiple mural projects that have come from Fresno’s Measure P fund, which expanded funding for community and arts programs. He’s also helped start the local non-profit Paper Crane Arts Center and hopes to receive grants to fund drawing nights and other mural projects.

“Primarily, our focus is on creating spaces where emerging artists can work on their studio practice, compare notes and step away from the academic bubble,” Townsend said.

Moving forward, Townsend doesn’t just want to cover the walls of Fresno with his art, but also wants to cultivate the next generation of local artists. In his own words on Paper Crane Arts Center.

“We’re really just getting started,” he said.

Sofia James

Sofia James is the current board chair of the student-run theatre collective, Experimental Theatre Company. (Photo courtesy of Sofia James)

Sofia James is a theater arts major with a focus in design and technology and has already found herself with an impressive career.

As a Fresno local she attended Edison High, and moved on to Fresno State as her parents did before her. She began her time in theater onstage initially, but found herself leaning more towards the technical side of the stage.

“I really fell in love with theater back in high school and kinda solidified that I wanted to try it out at Fresno State,” James said.

Once she decided to commit to theater, she knew she wanted to go to Fresno State. In her circle of fellow theater peers, the university’s theater department was something people wanted to be a part of.

“Fresno State theater is known for being this cool thing. In the theater community here in Fresno, it’s kind of up there,” James said.

James began to focus more and more on costume designing and has designed for shows on campus, as well as the Selma Arts Center. More recently, she worked with Slack on “The Brothers Size” and helped bring the vision together through the costume design. Slack was heavily inspired by McCraney’s work on the movie “Moonlight,” so James helped recreate some of the movie’s aesthetics to the show.

“We used a lot of deep blues and reds to show that passion that happens between the characters,” James said.

Being of both African American and Latina lineage, James has felt a lot of the discomfort that comes with being in a white-dominated field that is all too familiar to people of color. However, she has also noticed the increased desire for Black theater in Fresno and feels excitement about it.

As she continues to find herself getting involved in the community and the theater industry at large, James wants to continue to use her platform to highlight the people and topics that matter.

“I hope that when I set the precedent that we need to do something for x amount of reasons, or represent this group that’s feeling isolated or unheard, my collaborators will match that energy,” James said.

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About the Contributors
Jonathan Acevedo
Jonathan Acevedo, Reporter
Wyatt Bible
Wyatt Bible, Senior Graphic Designer
Wyatt Bible is a 5th year Graphic Designer for The Collegian. He has worked as a photographer and graphic designer for The Collegian for 8 semesters. Wyatt is a Graphic Design BFA major and looks to pursue a career as a graphic designer.
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    SarahMar 16, 2024 at 6:52 pm