“Tryin’ to Get Home” exhibit opens at The Grand

Gregory Wilkins discusses his artwork during the opening of his exhibit "Tryin' to Get Home."

NEW ULM — Artist Gregory T. Wilkins’ latest gallery exhibit “Tryin’ to Get Home” tries to bring home a message of social justice and the need for inclusivity.

The Grand Center for the Arts and Culture hosted a gallery opening for several of Wilkins pieces. Wilkins describes himself as a mixed-media fiber artist. His art incorporates multiple media including painting, photography and fiber. Nearly every piece he creates incorporates stitch-work. Sometimes the stitching is subtly woven into the work, other times it is the main thread of the work.

Wilkins said growing up in the 1970s he was taught to sew, but outside of his home, he was discouraged from sewing because it was not something boys did. Later in life, Wilkins took up painting and photography. After one photography show, when his piece did not win he tore up the photograph. He immediately regretted the act and began putting it back together, adding a layer of thread. He re-submitted the piece in a different category and won first.

“I had found my media,” Wilkins said.

From then on, nearly every piece he created would incorporate fiber designs. Some of the switch work is so fine, that a viewer needs to get up close to see it. That’s part of the goal as Wilkins wants to bring people in to examine his art subjects up close.

Two of Gregory Wilkins larger BLM pieces from his "Tryin' to Get Home" exhibit. The work the left honors essential workers. The piece on the right reference a common refrain in BLM protests.

One of the most striking pieces in the exhibit is a piece made of recycled mop heads. Wilkins stitched several recycled mop heads onto a canvas and painted a portrait over top of it. The face painted over the mops cannot easily be seen unless the viewer is standing in the right spot.

The piece is titled “Black Lives Matter: Essential Worker,” and is dedicated to the essential workers, many of whom were people of color, who worked to clean hospitals during the COVID pandemic. Wilkins said the mops were recycled after being used by essential workers at the hospital.

Many of the works chosen for the “Tryin’ to Get Home” exhibit feature individuals of color. Wilkins was raised in a multi-ethnic, multinational family. He saw first-hand how his brother faced racial discrimination because of his skin color. Much of his artwork is in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The oldest piece in the exhibit was completed in 1994 and called Black Lives Matter: AIDS. Wilkins created the piece in response to the high increase of HIV/AIDS in the African-American community. Wilkins said he titled the piece BLM over a decade before the acronym became popular. It shows many of these topics are still relevant.

Wilkins hopes to use his artistic voice to create dialogue and encourage viewers to think about their privilege.

A mixed-media piece created by artist Gregory Wilkins. It depicts a photo of a woman with a hijab switched over the portrait.

The title of the exhibit “Tryin’ to Get Home” is from an African American Spiritual of the same name. It is about the continued struggle for people of color.

Wilkins said the title reminds him of Tyre Nichols, who was murdered by Memphis police in January 2023. Nichols was only two minutes from home.

Wilkins said because of his white skin, he does not have to worry about being stopped on the way home. No one is going to stop him because they think he doesn’t belong.

“I want people to think about their privilege and the rights we are afforded,” he said. “Who are we othering?”

“Tryin’ to Get Home” will be on display in the 4 Pillars Gallery at The Grand through November 17.

"Driving While Black" was created by Wilkins in 2021. Wilkins created it in response to racial profiling in traffic stops.

Martin Luther College student Sarah Johnson tours the "Trying to Get Home" exhibit.

The oldest piece in Wilkins collection, BLM: AIDS was created in 1994.


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