Tay Butler Contest

The Sankofa Project

February 3, 2023 – May 28, 2023 Main Street Windows & Grace R. Cavnar Gallery
Images courtesy of Ronald L. Jones

About The Exhibition

CONTEST is a site-specific collage mural that merges two distinct racial moments in the history of professional basketball. In 1995, Denver Nuggets point guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, formally Chris Jackson, protested the American flag by sitting for the duration of the national anthem. Within 2 seasons, he would be out of a job, never to return to the NBA. In 1999, during the NBA Finals, New York Knicks forward Larry Johnson referred to himself and his teammates as “rebellious slaves” for their habits of togetherness and non- compliance with the status quo. NBA personalities like Bill Walton called him “pathetic” and a “sad human being”. Within a year, he too would be out of the NBA.”

“These two incidents identify the conundrum of the Black NBA athlete; wealthy and famous enough to be watched, cheered and idolized by the mainstream, but still subject to the discriminatory practices of an anti-Black power structure. Rich enough to purchase the illusion of transcending race, but too Black to be allowed into the upper echelons of power and ownership. Influential and relevant enough to be considered royalty in the neighborhoods they come from, but too socially distant and often, too disinterested to speak up for or give back to those same communities.” — Tay Butler

About The Sankofa Project

Curated by Tierney L. Malone, The Sankofa Project is a multi-year examination of the historical events leading up to our current moment of social unrest and racial reckoning. Beginning with the people and stories that make up our own communities of Houston, this project aims to bring light to the events that have been censored or ignored in historical narratives in order to reinforce the racial oppression of Black Americans.

The Sankofa Project will commission three artists annually to create and present new work that is reflective of their own experience in contemporary America and related to the work of scholars and historians who are leading conversations on race and inequality. The artists’ work will be presented in Lawndale’s east-facing windows on Main Street and accompanied by a podcast and public program to inspire dialogue within our community.

“Sankofa” is the Ghanaian word most commonly translated as “one must acknowledge the past in order to move forward.” Thus, in The Sankofa Project, Malone brings together artists and our community to reflect upon the past, reminding us of the power of art to serve not only as the language of humanity but also its catalyst for change.

About The Artist

Tay Butler is a multi-disciplinary artist based in Houston, TX. He received his BFA in Photography and Digital Media from the University of Houston and recently completed his MFA in the University of Arkansas’ Photography program. After retiring from the US Army and abandoning a middle-class engineering career to search for purpose, Tay reignited a rich appreciation for Black history and a deep obsession with the Black archive. Using past and present images to create a historically-layered body of work, Tay reorients cultural material from the ever-growing Black experience.

Tay works with photography, collage, video, and sound exhibitions and installations. His solo exhibitions and installations include RE.Migrant I & II at Project Row Houses, (Houston) and We Are Still Searching at the University of Houston’s Louise J. Moran Fine Arts Courtyard. His work has been featured in group exhibitions at Artpace (San Antonio, TX); Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston; and the Texas Biennial at FotoFest (Houston). Performance exhibitions include Jefferson Pinder’s Fire and Movement for DiverseWorks (Houston) and Tay has collaborated with the Houston Rockets, among others. Awards include the Individual Artist Fellowship from the Arkansas Arts Council and First Prize in the 2019 Citywide African-American Artists Exhibition at Texas Southern University. Tay currently teaches in the University of Houston’s photo department and has led private and community workshops for Crystal Bridges Museum (Bentonville, AR) and The Center for Fine Art Photography (Fort Collins, CO).

About the Curator

Tierney L. Malone is a visual artist and modern day storyteller who uses the canon of African-American history and pop culture to create mixed media works that challenge contemporary culture and politics.

Malone has exhibited his art widely throughout Texas and the United States, including numerous solo exhibitions. His works are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Kansas City Jazz Museum, Kansas City, Missouri; Goldman Sachs, New York, New York; and the Federal Reserve Bank, Houston, Texas. He is the recipient of the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant, a CACHH Visual Artist Grant, and a Kimbrough Visual Artist Grant.

Collaboration with the jazz community is also at the forefront of Malone’s practice, including commissions to create the jacket covers for jazz musician Don Byron’s 1999 CD, Romance of the Unseen, on the Blue Note Label and for jazz pianist Randy Weston’s 2003 performance at the Miller Outdoor Theater. In 2008, Malone completed two jazz-related major commissions: a limited edition print celebrating Da Camera of Houston’s 20th Anniversary and an outdoor mural entitled “Southern Sounds” for the Coleman Art Center in York, Alabama. Additionally, Malone is the creator of the Jazz Church of Houston and the host of the Houston Jazz Spotlight on 90.1 KPFT, both of which recognize and preserve Houston’s remarkable contribution to the musical genre of Jazz.

Born in Los Angeles and based in Houston’s historic Third Ward, Malone was raised in Mississippi and Alabama and considers himself a Southern Seed.