In a landscape of creativity and innovation, Maria Williams emerged as an artist, a visionary activist and entrepreneur. She embarked on a mission that transcended conventional artistic endeavors after recognizing a void within the San Antonio community. The Eye of the Beholder Art Gallery and Studio stands as a testament to her unwavering commitment to providing a home for Black artists to authentically express themselves.
Williams’ journey was far from traditional; her canvas was the social fabric of her surroundings. Utilizing her multifaceted talents, Williams embarked on a mission that went beyond brushstrokes and pigments. The Eye of the Beholder Art Gallery emerged as an unparalleled hub for Black artists.
Travel Noire spoke with Williams about the art gallery, her inspiration and more.
TRAVEL NOIRE: Can you provide insight to readers about the inception of the Eye Of The Beholder Art Gallery?
MARIA WILLIAMS: It was very simple. [I was] noticing the lack of Black Art here and wondering why. Then, watching the local news and seeing the different grants and recognition given, I didn’t see any Black faces.
I called a friend of mine who is an artist, and said “hey, I just watched this news segment, why is it that I’m [not] seeing any grants and recognition handed out to Black artist.” She said that [it] was normal.
It’s not normal; we allowed it to be normal. How do we change it? I’m not an artist, but we knew three artist I admired and [met]. They said they had been artist for a number of years and that’s how things usually work. I’m not an artist. I’m an activist. It was the arts that caught me, and now thats my platform.
TN: How did you create your own art gallery?
MW: During my advocating, I looked around the city and realized we didn’t have a Black art gallery. I called my partner and said I think I’m going to open a gallery. I [had] an event company for 13 years now, so my initial plan was to take a break, make this happen. Show the artist you have to unify and show a united front. When you don’t find opportunities, make them. That was the plan.
TN: What does the gallery mean to you, and what factors do you credit for its success?
MW: This gallery means so much more to me than just a place to hang pretty pictures. We’re talking economic development. We’re talking cultural pride and cultural expression. That’s what I found with a lot of these artists, they felt warm and welcomed.
We were invited to Art Basel last year, and we [were] invited back this year. People would introduce me as the lady that owns the Black art gallery in San Antonio, Texas, [and they were met] with astonished looks on their faces.
That made me recognize what this isn’t something that is normal either. I thought my problem was a San Antonio problem. I came to find out that not many cities have Black art galleries. My original goal was to bring in local artists, but I found out this was a universal thing.
TN: What continues to fuel your inspiration?
MW: One of the discussions I like to have with artists in San Antonio is that sacrifice is sometimes having to get justice even for yourself. Being here was a sacrifice, and I would have to leave San Antonio to get folks into the gallery that would appreciate Black art.
I have no fear, [and] was raised by a woman who got on a ship to come to this country and not know what was going to happen to her. I saw the effect [and] saw the changes I was making.