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James and Zsudayka Nzinga Terrell  

The exhibit is open through March 4 at the Caton Merchant Family Gallery at the Center for the Arts in downtown Manassas.


James Terrell and Zsudayka Nzinga Terrell are a husband and wife team of visual artists who live in Washington, D.C. They paint vibrant Afro-futurist abstract portraits.

Their current exhibit at the Caton Merchant Family Gallery, “Born at the Bottom of the Ship,” investigates the identity of the descendants of Africans brought to America and how that identity still exists in the new tribe — blacks, who are uniquely African American while also being considered neither.

James and Zsudayka Terrell address this disconnect in “Born at the Bottom of the Ship” by creating a collection of portraits that feature traditional African references incorporated within the contemporary work, according to the artists’ statement.

Their collection of acrylic paintings is a visual exploration of who African Americans are as a new culture, community and tribe.

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“Snacks” by Zsudayka Terrell

At first glance, their artwork may appear very similar, but on closer study, the distinct differences in overall style and painterly approach become prominent.

Zsudayka Terrell’s works highlight the black woman’s experience in America using unique linear patterns reminiscent of fabric stitching and touches of realism.

Her patterns also consume the background of most of her paintings, entrancing the viewer in a mash of color and lively, flowing brushwork. James Terrell’s paintings are often slightly flatter in appearance and more abstract with the use of large blocks of color, bold outlines and detailed patterns to create his figures, which are mostly male.

A few of his paintings also include musical instruments, reflecting his passion for music. 

Both artists have been featured in galleries and museums across the country. James Terrell received the East of the River Distinguished Artist Award in 2017, and studied art at Howard University and the Parsons School of Art and Design.

Zsudayka Tyrell pursued a career in journalism before shifting her focus to the arts. The Terrells work closely with local nonprofits to develop youth art programming in their community, and both have been teaching art for over 10 years.

A free and open to the public meet-the-artists reception hosted by the Prince William County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. is set for 6-8 p.m. Feb. 9.

The exhibit is at the Center for the Arts at the Candy Factory, 9419 Battle St., Manassas.  

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James Terrell at work.

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