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Newark Arts Family

I met the Onque family a few years ago at a local artisan market, Market on Market Street, and I noticed that it seemed that everyone in their line was artistically gifted. This is immensely special- most artists experience life in their families of origin as “the only one,” or “that weird aunt of yours,” etc. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing just a few families where the artistic spirit draws power from being multigenerational.

Onque Family

I spoke with Yvonne Onque, the creator of God-S Wearable Art: “The Onque family has been established in New Jersey for generations, with many being involved in fine and performing arts. I have personally been an artist and graphic designer for over forty years. Two of my sons, Samad and Suliman, are accomplished fine artists and self-publishers of their own comic books. The three of us recently collaborated on the stage mural for the City of Newark's soundstage project located on Clinton and Peshine Avenues.” She would love to do a mural for the city- I always encourage people to put their dreams out there…A note about the soundstage- this is one of many new projects our mayor, himself part of a legendary poetic lineage, has been developing. Check it out sometime as part of a walk or bike ride to see new murals around the city. Suliman and Samad have created numerous comic books with unique stories that connect to the importance of representation, including a character, Super Sketch Painter, who goes from comic to comic whenever a hero is needed. Suliman describes his art as follows…” "if you can imagine it, we can create it, artistically of course.” I would urge you to approach the Onques when you want a commission- everything is custom…

People often ask me about Newark arts, what makes it unique here, if there is a “Newark School,” and I usually start by saying that there is a certain density of talent here, that our cultural roots go deep, and also a multidisciplinary aspect to the past and present arts scene: the visual and performing arts blend here, many people do both, and they often make it look easy when it isn’t! Imagine being good at everything you touch…Ms. Onque talks about “all the artistic and musical talent that has rolled thru…” and in her telling, I imagine a rising river of names that draws us along with powerful tides.

Onque 1

Ms. Onque’s uncles, Jack and Carl Onque, are world-renowned jazz musicians, still gigging. Cultural critic Dave Hickey has written many times about the importance of elevating the word “gig,” to proper heights. So I use this slangy phrase to honor those people who can make it look easy, whose art is in their bones, who can make of wherever they are a stage, a club, a moment.

She also credits remembering her mom draw when she was a little child. “Another strong influence is Gladys Grauer who was my 8th-grade art teacher. It's an incredible feeling to be able to still witness her art as one of Newark's artistic pioneers.” This writer suspects that if all the artists, especially women artists, who were nurtured by, inspired by, or otherwise propelled forward by, Ms. Grauer, were gathered on the steps of city hall for a group photo we would spill out into the street and people would start asking what time the parade was starting. They don’t call Ms. Grauer, now in her nineties, the “mother of Newark Arts” for nothing.

Back to this question of what is unique about Newark Arts: “I was born and raised in Newark and witnessed its many transformations. This town has been a breeding ground for innovation and talent and I have benefited from that kind of creative energy. I came up surrounded by strong families who encouraged each other to excel. It is about telling stories of triumph…. It showcases genuine talent for expressing life experiences in sometimes extremely challenging conditions.”

Art - Onque

Dear reader, I bet right now you are wondering how to get some of this energy into your life! I’m delighted to report that in addition to the gorgeous, funky jewelry, clothing, and accessories she has been offering, there are now coloring books! You can get them online at www.gswearableart.ecwid.com and they are awesome for pretty much anyone in your life. The first one, “The God-S Movement,” is a massive 48 original pages celebrating “the multifaceted energies of the God-S.” Another one, “Tribute”, soon to be released, honors all of the women who have supported the Onques over the years. 48 pages! Wow!

A question she often gets asked is why the women she draws have closed eyes. I personally see them as pensive, or as dreaming, seeing things others don’t. Ms. Onque says, “The faces of our women are meant to represent beauty and inspire in you a positive and affirming feminine spirit…The closed eyes represent a peaceful state of meditation and prayer. We encourage you to wear your God-S Wearable Art as a testimony to the universal blessing of women as life bearers, nurturers, teachers and inspiring leaders in today's multifaceted global village.”

I asked her what we should always remember and talk about when it comes to Newark Arts: “I know from first-hand experience that Newark's history is rich with stories of strong families and communities. Some of them still reside here. These are the people who deserve respect and should not be forgotten for their contributions to this city.”

So there. A city of legends, and legendary families. My city. Maybe yours too.

Evonne M. Davis and Emma Wilcox are working artists and cofounders of Gallery Aferro, a Newark alternative arts nonprofit. Begun in 2003, Gallery Aferro offers exhibitions featuring local, national and international artists, a wide range of public events, a year-round studio residency program, educational offerings, group tours, a publication line, a gift shop, and public art initiatives.