Keeody Gallery is a gallery founded during the COVID-19 pandemic in the area of Chattanooga that was once the only place where Black entertainers and the like could move freely in town. The gallery’s founders are both artists, transplants to Chattanooga, and a newly married couple --Keelah Jackson-Harris and Jody Harris. They are currently housing only their art works in the gallery due to COVID. However, they often work with artists whose style may not be conventional and they aim for Keeody (a name made by merging their two names) to be a place for artists who haven't otherwise had the opportunity to showcase their art.
Having to navigate working during the pandemic, they have been able to reach a wider audience through their website and social media pages.
Picture This Post’s Editor-in-Chief was referred to Keeody by the PR reps for Chattanooga tourism. Here, Picture This Post (PTP) talks to Keelah Jackson-Harris (KJH) as we delve into specific exhibits and works, and what it has meant to launch their gallery at this time, when the Black Lives Matter Movement and the role art has in racial justice has become a more mainstream topic, even in the White dominated art world.
(PTP) What is like working as a couple?
(KJH) OMG! Would you like an honest answer or a pleasant one? Overall it is a sheer blessing. To be able to connect on so many levels--spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally, and physically--when we are creating pieces together is amazing. It's creativity and beauty in its highest form in my opinion; however, we are human. Jody has a very pronounced style which is established, and I am an emerging artist because I am just now establishing what flows for me. As we collaborate, he envisions pieces one way and I another. At the end of the day, we know that whatever may come from the energy of our desires to create strong, classic, solid, meaningful pieces will be ethereal and divine. We release ego and roll into the spirit.
We definitely have similar tastes in art. We both love strong statement pieces and bold colors. Jody enjoys pop art, street art, abstract, original, imaginative graphic flair while I tend to gravitate towards watercolors and natural scenes/depictions.
Jody is a trained artist by trade and education. He eats, breathes, sleeps, lives, and loves ART. He has undergrad and graduate degrees in art. When we met, my creativity was awakened because I hadn't engaged with my visual artistic giftings seriously in many years. In being around him and evolving into a couple, I began to realize that Keeody definitely had a vibe of uniqueness within its own right.
What makes Keeody Gallery unique?
We adopted that name (Keeody) so that it would be easy to remember and celebrate how our creativity began--with us. At the end of the day, if we take a break from art or creating (big IF), we will always still have Keelah and Jody.
Keeody Gallery is unique in the fact that we have not experienced anything as intimate and inviting as our current space. I take special effort and intention to curate an experience through all of the senses to facilitate the healing energies of positivity, love, and care to amplify each visitor's experience. No matter if the person has visited us once or five hundred and one times, we truly intend for people to engage with us and the pieces that flow through us on an interactive and interpretive level. I say quite frequently that we as creatives are healers in the way that we use ourselves as vessels and conduits so that the divine may flow through us to articulate what may not be articulated through words alone. In being free from ego and self and being non-judgmental of what comes through us, we can produce work that resonates with people on profound levels that go way beyond anything that we could have predicted or contrived. So, in the sacred moments of when people make those connections, our space is the cocoon that enables them to be golden--even if just in the time when they have been with us.
We hope that our visitors leave with that golden moment and spread it. That's our aim. Spread the love. Not a black, white, red, brown, love--just love. Unconditional love and true connection between individuals are what heals all and bridges all gaps, so if our space allows the metaphysical to occur when and where needed, we are here for it. It sounds cliché and trite, but that's what we feel makes us special. Do not take that as us saying that we feel superior in hoping to provide a whole experience; nope, that's not the case at all. There are plenty of other fantastic galleries and museums around us that we visit, support, and endorse; we just feel a higher frequency of energy here where we create and meditate and handcraft art that we rarely feel in other spaces. So, the energy of a space really makes a difference. In spreading love, though, we do one hundred percent love ourselves and our identification of being Black. That proud identification may lend itself to some of our uncommon vibes. Who knows?
I go with what I like and what moves me, and Jody goes with offering opportunities to emerging artists who desire and deserve exhibit space in a gallery setting. We think it's very impractical for young and emerging artists to gain exhibit exposure if they aren't allowed to exhibit anywhere. It is also discouraging for young and emerging artists to work tirelessly, but they may not be able to afford to participate in juried fairs or pay rent in gallery spaces. We honestly are in existence to extend the art, love, and soul of what inspires us to create and connect with other individuals who feel the same way.
How long is the typical Keeody exhibit "in the making"? How do you plan an exhibition?
Well, if it is the middle of the night epiphany or inspiration, then the planning of an exhibit might be an immediate download where the pieces simply fall into place within a matter of days. Sometimes we map out what we'd like to accomplish within a weekly span. In our programming of events and exhibits, sometimes the ideas for both marry very easily because they are evident conclusions. Jody knew that he wanted to highlight Black woman magic to honor his grandmother (whose birthday falls within the month of our planning...coincidence? LOL), mother, aunts, me, etc, and so the ideas and development of the current exhibit hinges around how the Black women in our lives may be celebrated and honored. I guess the real heart of the matter is that everything with us begins with the heart and what resounds with us. Most times, if it resounds with us, it resounds with our visitors, too. They just can dig it. We then reach out to other factors within the plan (ie feature artists, musicians, etc...) and go from there.
To backtrack, can you tell Picture This Post readers about your background? Are you natives of Chattanooga and Tennessee?
Yes and no all at once! HA! Jody is originally from Dalton, Georgia, and I am from Knoxville, Tennessee. We both lived in Atlanta for a considerable amount of time around the same period of time (unaware of one another), but our Chattanooga ties differ. I had family who lived here for several years, and I attended and graduated from UTC; Jody has family here and has performed and created in Chattanooga professionally for many years as well.
How else are your works a reflection of your Chattanooga roots/location?
My work varies in being a reflection of Chattanooga because I am not a native. I attended UTC for my undergrad studies, but I have been here long enough now to engage in projects to highlight Chattanooga culture. Prime example, we taught a virtual art camp for youth this past June and July 2020 (CampKEEODY), and I felt that it was extremely important for our young students to "visit" Chattanooga landmarks through their time with us. Each week contained a weekly "feel trip" of sorts to the various locations to make the familiar connections to local places that they may have visited before and are currently unable to do now due to the "new normal". It was a beautiful experience to have the young creatives "feel" and paint their remembrances or imagined experiences of Chattanooga wonders like The Chatt Aquarium, Rock City, The Chatt Zoo, Chatt Choo Choo, The Chatt Lookouts/AT&T Field, Lake Winnie, and The Creative Discovery Museum. The students since then have been celebrated by having a public display sponsored by a beloved and noted Chattanooga establishment, EPB. Each student was offered the opportunity to bring his/her favorite painting to be photographed and highlighted in a professional photoshoot, and the photos were collected into a beautiful exhibit that is currently being displayed on the downtown Chattanooga office display screens.
It is really exciting to have the city acknowledge these young local talents and for each student to understand that his/her creativity--the essence of being--matters. The original works that I created will be further used in the future to highlight the city and its excellence in the arts. We are located in the historic MLK district (formerly 9th Street/Big 9) where Black entertainers, musicians, notable people/visitors could only navigate safely in the city. Our location is considered downtown, within the heart of UTC radius, and it is only minutes from the arts bluff district.
Could you tell our readers a little about your portrait series Black Girl Magic?
Jody made the series. He didn't really title it, but that was what it was created to represent. It will accompany a series of shows that we will be hosting in September entitled The Black Woman Magic Show, so I think that is what it has become what it named itself LOL! It was definitely inspired by the greatness and strength of Black women. It features different 3D elements (as is customary for Jody's work--kind of trademark for his style) and depictions of intelligent Uhura from Star Trek because he wanted to show that Black women are universal and not monochromatic. It's a great fit for our gallery because we definitely choose to highlight, celebrate, and embrace Black culture and Black folk stories told through art.
On your website, there are prints for sale made by Jody titled ENOUGH. Have you been creating a lot of art in response to Black Lives Matter movement?
Enough is indeed a powerful piece. It was actually inspired and for the most part, created before the second pandemic of police murder erupted into full volume, but Jody really added details and sat with the full gravity of why he created it in the first place during this time period. He created it because he was just tired. Tired of being unjustly handled as a man. Tired of being wrongly judged for being a Black man. Tired not being able to earn a decent living wage for being who he was created to be--which is an artist. Tired of having to defend being an artist. A male artist. A Black artist. A male Black artist. On top of everything else, he was tired of always having to be on the defensive in life. So, the focus of the piece just exhales into a full expression of "enough." Jody has created several pieces of work during both pandemics, but yes, he has specifically created work that has been specifically channeled in response to the climate of enough. I have been moved to be still at this time. I really have been numb and blocked on some levels because the part of me that believes there is a common thread of humanity through everyone is now tired. It's ironically funny. Jody's "enough" fueled him to lean into creation whereas my "enough" has resigned me to rest.
From your perspective, what is the role of art in dismantling racism and systemic injustice?
Keeody has experienced a keener awareness of our existence because of the attention that has been directed towards Black equity and leveled playing fields. We are now being asked how we may be helped instead of being bypassed because we may not have the same economic advantages as our white or other counterparts. It is a refreshing step in the direction of compassion and empathy.
We strongly identify as two unapologetically Black individuals, and we love ourselves and our heritage; we know that humanity goes beyond color, and as long as we operate in integrity, we believe that the same energy will return to us.
This time has definitely sparked inspiration and reflection within anyone who calls him/herself a creative. Jody and I both believe that art in all forms--visual, writing, dance, etc.--will play a humongous role in dismantling racism and systemic justice because as we artists collaborate and connect, we will be the examples of creative unity. Just as the arts served as a bridge during the Civil Rights Era of Freedom Riders and sit-ins, we believe that it will do the same now for those who truly want civil unity. The time is up for artists to stop being fake and pandering to what sells, and it is NOW when we should stand together in true solidarity. Putting pettiness and ego and pride aside, it is time for all humans to look at the truth of our earthly existence. You can't breathe if I can't breathe. So, we as artists of all colors, incomes, followings, and media should collaborate, connect, love one another in a sincere spirit of Ubuntu--love, compassion for humanity--just because. We should all rise and elevate together and show anyone and everyone who vibrates on negative energy that unconditional love and connection prevails. When the tides begin to change in the ways that we know that they can change, we need to create like never before and implement new laws and ways of life to support our desired utopia. The power of the pen yields a deadly blow, yet Jody and I say that the paintbrush is pretty mean, too. You may quote us on that!
We plan to continue to develop our current programs and expand in the near future. We boldly stand to remain a safe space (whether in-person or virtual) for ourselves and others who seek solace in the arms of artistic expression.
Any other comments for our readers?
We want to THANK every single person who has supported us in any shape, form, or fashion along our journey of life and especially within our existence as Keeody. Our time as gallery curators and as a newlywed married couple has coincided with these pandemics, and so we do not take anything for granted. For every person who has bought merchandise, sent donations, tagged us on social media, spoken a kind word, or interviewed us--we appreciate you!! We do continue to accept and graciously receive any and all forms of kindness no matter the size. May everyone reading the article continue to make the world a better place.
Editor's Note: Keeody is open on limited hours and with restricted numbers for tours but they are open for visits by appointment. The pair is currently working on an audio-visual project, Shine Language Fluent, and they may be contacted for art purchase and booking through the resources linked below. You may also support and donate through their website.
To learn more, visit the Keeody Gallery website or through Facebook and Instagram at @keeodyart.
Keeody Gallery is located at 756 E MLK Blvd. #200, Chattanooga TN, 37403
PHOTOS: Taylor Ware