Allens Lane exhibit: bold, candid and uncompromising

by Len Lear
Posted 3/16/23

Dara Haskins, a Germantown artist whose solo exhibit opens this week at Allens Lane Art Center, is as bold, candid and uncompromising as her colorful work. 

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Allens Lane exhibit: bold, candid and uncompromising


Dara Haskins, a Germantown artist whose solo exhibit opens this week at Allens Lane Art Center, is as bold, candid and uncompromising as her colorful work. 

“I've been offered exhibits because I am a Black, queer woman and not because of my work itself, and I have turned them down,” she said. “I make what I want and show what I want to show. I've heard curators talk about me like I am candy. But these paintings are my flowers from my ancestors, and my work speaks louder than any trend.”

The show,  We Vibrate When We Breathe,” is part of a series she calls “TASTE,” and will begin with a reception, 5 to 7 p.m., Saturday, March 18,  and continue through April 15. 

A press release describes the exhibit as “a meditation on the Black queer body and movement in the atmosphere of the domestic and natural environments … the figures in the TASTE series are keenly observed and communicate a layered experience of euphoria and desire.”

Vita Litvak, executive director of Allens Lane Art Center, said she chose Haskins' work because “Dara's paintings and videos transport us to a space filled with love and reverence for the body. The work … transforms the daily mundane life experiences into poignant and magical landscapes filled with intense color fields, movement and deep states of reflection.”

Haskins, a native of Baltimore, joined ROTC while in community college in Maryland and had every intention of joining the military upon graduation. However, according to a quote that is generally attributed to John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans.”

While planning on a possible career in the military, Haskins took an art class. The teacher, Amy Sherald – who won a national competition to paint the official portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama – looked at the work of the students, pointed at Haskins', and said, “Whose watercolors are these?”

“When I told her they were mine, [Sherald] said, 'You really have something here. You have to go to art school!' I didn't even know what art school was,” Haskins recalled.

Haskins abandoned her military plans and enrolled at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), and went on to win a number of scholarships and prizes. She wound up going to Cologne, Germany, with prominent Philadelphia artist Autumn Wallace, where her work was put on exhibit. “That was very exciting,” she said. “I saw original Picassos in a museum there. Travel inspires my work.”

Haskins also won a travel scholarship, and used half of the money to pay for a month at an AirBnB rental in Cuba in 2019. 

“That month changed my life,” she said. “The colors, music and spirituality. You hear people singing all the time. I can't wait to go back. I speak Spanish, and I was given a stern talking-to in Cuba and told not to do anything illegal, or they will put you beneath the jail. Every day I still check in by FaceTime, calling families I met there.

“I'd like to go again this year. The fish is so good. Everything is so fresh. On my second day there I was in a house, and there were chickens on the other side. I started petting a chicken. Later on my friend said 'You know that chicken you were petting? That's what you just put in your mouth.' Cats, chickens, dogs, pigs, all running around free-range. I saw a pig chase a cat, who was chasing a chicken. It was really great!

“I met a famous musician there, Benny, and was hanging out with him and dancing with him at 1:30 a.m. I recognize how privileged I am. They have to walk so far in Cuba just to get water, for example. It was important for me to go there alone and take my blinders off. But there is some prejudice there against artists, queer or not. And prejudice against dark skin color. I've never seen features like I saw in Cuba. That's why I painted so many portraits.”

Haskins, who also does sculpting, is going to be on season 2 of “Bel Air,” a TV series streaming on Peacock with a dramatic take on a man's complicated journey from the streets of West Philadelphia to the gated mansions of Bel Air. She also hopes to be in an upcoming exhibit at Woodmere Art Museum. At the Allens Lane exhibit, there will also be a film, “Black Sunrise,” on a projector that attendees can view.

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