Dammit Wesley is redefining what “affordable art” is by well…defining it.
by Alexandra Jane·
Artist, DJ, durag enthusiast, agitator. No matter how you may have been introduced to Dammit Wesley, chances are, you soon came to recognize him as a southern gem with many facets. Hailing from the Queen City of Charlotte, North Carolina, Wesley’s name sounds through the town as loudly as his voice can be heard from the back of community meetings, panel discussions, and public forums for the city’s Arts & Science Council—whether he was invited or not. This type of dedication to public engagement, however, is not for selfish gain. Wesley is committed to serving Charlotte creatives by connecting them not only to the resources they need to propel their projects, but also to a community eager to support them and to help them succeed.
Drawing from his years of working in nightlife, Wesley produces events that draw big crowds and make major waves—literally. If you’ve missed the wave checks that go down during the city’s annual Durag Fest, trust me, they are a no holds barred competition. In addition to Durag Fest which is held on or around Juneteenth each year, Wesley and his team have hosted group exhibitions, rooftop parties, and for Charlotte’s bravest artists, live art critiques from his gallery and studio space, BLKMRKTCLT. The virality of these cultural moments generated by Wesley and Co. not only live on the tongues of those who were there to tell it, but in the archives of major media outlets like CNN, Blavity, The Shaderoom, and Essence Magazine. But the crew doesn’t just host (as Wesley would put it) Black ass art parties. Every event produced is intentionally curated as an opportunity for local artists to showcase their talents, network professionally, and most of all, get paid. In his latest effort to do just that, Dammit Wesley presents the Hunnid Dollar Art Fair. Good Black Art recently had the opportunity to catch up with the artist and cultural curator to learn more.
Durag Fest, 2022
Alexandra Jane: What I want to know first off is what inspired you to organize such an art fair, and also, what year is this for the event?
Dammit Wesley: I believe we did our first Hunnid Dollar Art Fair in 2018. It was a collaborative effort between my studio BLKMRKTCLT, and the People’s Market. To be honest, initially I just needed an excuse to clean out my inventory. And I figured there were other artists that wanted to do the same. After the first show we did—which got a really good response—we decided to keep it going. And what I noticed was that year after year, people were coming back with bigger pockets. I met a guy the first year that said to me, “Wesley, I got $400. I need you to tell me what to buy.” And then the third year we did it, I saw people’s budgets had gone up to $800. And then by the time we got to our fourth showing, we had regular collectors.
For the most part, I know it was just [about] creating accessibility to art within the Black community. Taking away the old pretentious ideology of having to like art history and whatever else people like to imagine the process as being, the Hunnid Dollar Art Fair just kind of took that away. I really wanted to see how far I could scale this idea up. By doing an art fair scholastic book style, and essentially creating two exhibition halls—one that features exclusively $100 priced art, and a VIP section, which features larger pieces, which are appropriately priced, it definitely helps people realize the value of the things they’re purchasing, and also encourages people to maybe go for the more expensive piece of artwork.
AJ: Sure it does. What else can VIP ticket holders expect?
DW: First dibs. With such a low price point, one of the things we ran into last year was just keeping the gallery stocked. I know last year we did roughly $22,000 to $23,000 in sales. I think we maybe had 18 artists in total. It was received so well that we had to do a second weekend and they almost cleared us out on that weekend as well.
AJ: $23,000 is a lot of hundred dollar sales. Is there a reason you chose $100 specifically? And also, would you say that making the sticker price known up front disrupts the elusiveness of traditional gallery pricing models?
DW: So two things: Just being able to say that everything is a hunnid, H-U-N-N-I-D, you know, the Blackness in me just wanted to be ignorant and just price everything at $100. But also, having worked with other galleries and institutions, and knowing how much commission is being taken on the back end, pricing artworks at $100 and letting artists keep one hundred percent of the sale, it just seemed fair, and easy math for everybody all around. And $100 just seems like a good starting point for a first time collector, or somebody that’s like, “art curious.”
AJ: So how did you go about selecting your artists? Was there an open call?
DW: Oh god no, I never do open calls. Each of these artists were hand selected. These are either people that I’m inspired by, people that I want to personally collect, or just interesting creatives that I’ve found searching Instagram and Twitter.
AJ: How many do you have this time around?
DW: I think the current count is 52.
AJ: Can you name drop a few of them for us?
DW: As of right now, aside from myself, we have artists like Nadia Meadows, a sculptor who works exclusively with Black hair. We have some Charlotte staples like Arko who is a prolific street artist in the city who believes in free art, so he works from a lot of recyclable materials. And we also have traditional artists like Kalin Renee who is an oil painter.
AJ: Nice. Speaking of your own work, what will you be contributing to the show?
DW: In all honesty, I haven’t had a lot of time to curate my own wall, but I’m leaning towards small prints of my Olympia series. I’ve just been having a lot of fun painting these moments of niggas dropping off dick.
AJ: Oh is that what’s happening in the paintings?
DW: (Laughs) Yeah, well I needed a break. A lot of my work deals with so much racism and where we as Black people stand within the context of American pop culture, and our bodies being commodified and all that. It was just heavy on my spirit. One day I was on my laptop and I downloaded a picture of [Édouard Manet’s] Olympia…and I didn’t like what I saw. So, I went and cross referenced it with some images that I found from Freaknik in 1997, and It just led to these fun compositions of Black women lounging in luxury and designer wear, and faceless n****s just pulling up to drop off some d**k. And if you’ve ever been through a ho phase, you know how fun and exciting and relaxing that is. I think I found some catharsis in Black women owning Black bodies. I find more comfort in those more intimate, boudoir settings versus me constantly pushing the needle on identity and Blackness within the scope of American politics and history.
Dammit Wesley’s Olympia with big cheek nigga, 2022
Dammit Wesley’s Olympia 003, 2022
AJ: Understood. Lastly, is there anything else you’d like people to know about the purpose of this event?
DW: Really, I’m just trying to connect collectors to artists, for them to have a healthy symbiotic relationship without all of the politics, or middlemen, or galleries involved. I just want my folks to have something.”
The Hunnid Dollar Art Fair will take place in Charlotte, North Carolina December 8-10. You can find tickets and more info here.
Alexandra Jane is a curator, art writer, and cultural arts strategist from Charlotte, North Carolina. As a Black, queer feminist, she enters all spaces as a multidimensional being whose intersectional experiences both inform and inspire her work. Alexandra has facilitated several cultural programs including book swaps, poetry readings, and film showings, several of which have supported initiatives such as The Brown Girl Rent Bailout. She has additionally contributed to several digital and print publications including The Root, Charlotte Is Creative, SELF Magazine, Allure Magazine, and others. Alexandra made her curatorial debut in January 2022 with the intergenerational group show: MÔR: A Collective Exhibition of Black Lesbian Thoughtat Goodyear Arts.