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April 13, 2021

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Artist, cancer patient curates Black history exhibit at Vancouver library

Her annual event expands to include lessons for children

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
6 Photos
Artist Claudia Carter looks over a piece titled, "Self Portrait," in the side window exhibit at Vancouver Community Library in Vancouver. Carter has been putting on a Black History Month installation for four years. In February 2020, she was diagnosed with cancer and her goal was to live until at least February 2021 for one last installation.
Artist Claudia Carter looks over a piece titled, "Self Portrait," in the side window exhibit at Vancouver Community Library in Vancouver. Carter has been putting on a Black History Month installation for four years. In February 2020, she was diagnosed with cancer and her goal was to live until at least February 2021 for one last installation. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

When Lynda Tang met Claudia Carter in July, Carter had a singular focus.

Tang, who specializes in palliative care for Vancouver Clinic, likes to ask patients when she first meets them what their hopes and concerns are.

Carter, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February 2020, listed no concerns and only one hope, according to Tang’s notes from that meeting last summer.

“I want to do another Black history event,” the notes say.

Carter, a 66-year-old Vancouver resident, has built a presence in Clark County for her artwork and her continued efforts to educate the community about Black history.

So it’s fitting that what might be Carter’s last major wish was something for the community, not just something for herself. Carter has realized her hope, curating for a fourth year a Black History Month exhibit at the Vancouver Community Library in downtown Vancouver.

Carter was also able to bring her Black history exhibit to Clark County schools for the first time in the form of an educational video and study guide that helps students interact with and learn from the video.

“It is important for me to show African American kids that they have roots in Vancouver,” Carter said.

Bridgette Fahnbulleh, former president of NAACP Vancouver Branch 1139, said Carter has always been a kind person, focused on doing the right thing. Fahnbulleh is Carter’s younger sister.

Because of the cancer diagnosis, Fahnbulleh said times have been hard for their family, but Fahnbulleh says she continues to draw inspiration from her sister’s perseverance through her stage 4 cancer.

“Her biggest wish for Vancouver has come true,” Fahnbulleh said. “She wanted kids to see history in their community. They can understand they come from somewhere.”

Carter said she’s driven by a desire to represent Black people in her art, some of which is on display at the library. When Carter was growing up, she said it was rare to see people who looked like her in public art.

Carter said the lack of representation has an impact, because “art feeds the spirit,” which means that if there’s a lack of representation in art, there’s a lack of nourishment from art.

“The art that I saw around town didn’t represent me. I want Black children to see themselves in art,” Carter said. “To have a community, you have to have a connection to that community.”

Tang said she often gets to learn about patients’ lives while helping them, but her relationship with Carter has been particularly special, because she has been able to help Carter reach her goal of at least one more Black history exhibit, which benefits the community.

Tang said people often mistake palliative care as depressing, but she said Carter’s story is an example of how fulfilling and uplifting her job usually is.

“People tell me about their joy, what they are looking forward to,” Tang said. “I have a lot more good stories than I have bad stories.”

While Carter and Fahnbulleh don’t know what the future holds, Fahnbulleh said the Vancouver NAACP wants to raise funds to make a longer documentary about Black history in Clark County, something building off of the educational video.

“We have so much more stories to tell,” Fahnbulleh said.

Carter’s exhibit will be on display for the rest of the month, but beyond that she hopes there’s a broader shift to acknowledge, teach and learn Black history, regardless of the month.

“Black history is all history, because it touches everybody,” Carter said. “Once we acknowledge and accept that, we will be so much further along in this world.”

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