Video: Exploring ethnic stereotypes and the symbolism of birds take flight in ‘Social Consciousness’ opening

Bernice Appelin-Williams was driving through an East Side neighborhood near the Alamodome not long ago, when she came upon several dilapidated houses placed atop massive flatbed trailers that she figured were destined for demolition. Piqued by a penchant for exploring abandoned properties, she took out her camera and snapped away.

One of those photos became the subject of a work titled, “Wish List” which she reconstructed by adding a different photograph of an African-American mother and child sitting on a front porch, giving viewers a glimpse into the daily activity that occurred when the home saw better days.

“I show people living in the house to tell a story that is somewhat fabricated and somewhat true,” Appelin-Williams said. “I’m also touching on a subject about stereotypes of African-Americans related to their facial features and culture.” 

View a video interview with artist Bernice Appelin-Williams discussing another work below. 


“Wish List” is among Appelin-Williams’ new and recent works included in the exhibition, “Social Consciousness,” that opens with an artist reception, along with that of works by painter and sculptor James Wyatt Hendricks, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, March 11 at the MBAW Gallery, 23705 IH-10 West, 78257. It continues through May 5.

Hendricks’ works, meanwhile, focus on a theme of nature and the use of birds as a metaphor for freedom. This idea is illustrated in a colored pencil and graphite drawing titled, “Traveling I” which shows a flock of birds flying above the ocean in the middle of a storm. Below is a wooden boat with an uprooted tree standing in its center. The drawing is encased in a cut steel frame and below it is a poem by local poet Fernando Flores.

“The boat symbolizes man and the ocean represents woman while the tree represents nature,” he said. “The birds are flying above with some of them landing on the trees just going about their carefree business in the middle of this storm.”

Hendricks adds that birds in flight may symbolize freedom from limitation much like flying dreams. “The ability to fly also makes birds symbolic of the soul set free from the body,” he said.

Hendricks’ artistic career spans some 30 years and covers a range of mediums including painting, integrated stone sculpture, blacksmith steel, cast bronze, traditional welding and printing. “I am inspired by nature which I believe is perfection,” Hendricks said. “My sculptures are inspired by the movement and forms you see in nature.”

Reflecting on the exhibition’s theme, Appelin-Williams explained that when members of a species concern themselves with matters that affect their species as a whole instead of individually, then this is social consciousness.

“Many people are completely unaware of social injustices in their community, and they are complacent towards major challenges facing the planet,” she said. “They take an active role of ignorance and entitlement, and they are apathetic towards poverty, war, the environment, nature and climate change. They lack enthusiastic political beliefs, and few have meaningful interests or convictions. This is what it means to be socially unconscious.”

As a mixed-media artist, Appelin-Williams began her career in the 1980s by producing collages, installations and assemblages that often reflected political, spiritual and social issues. Today, her work often deals with providing visual stories of black women through the use of symbols, language, objects, and life from slavery to the present.

“I find inspiration from African and African-American cultures as well as exploration into the endeavors of the human race,” she said. “Through my art, I try to restore some of the lost kinship between us while informing of stereotypes, misconceptions, obscure or misrepresented histories, and/or the many manifestations of freedom and enslavement over time.”

For more information, visit or call 210.464.1534.

**Cover Image: MBAW Gallery, Courtesy Image.