Jewel of Columbus
By Hailey Stangebye
Photos courtesy of Lisa M. Cliff
Lisa M. Cliff clearly remembers the first time she met the late Aminah Robinson.
It was at a gallery opening for one of Aminah’s shows. The prospect of speaking to Aminah made Lisa anxious, but she overcame her nerves and worked up the gumption to introduce herself. She said ‘hello’ to Aminah and gave her a postcard that featured some of her original artwork.
“She looked at it, and then asked me a few questions about what I do, and she said it was nice work. I didn’t want to take up too much of her time,” Lisa says. “But then, Aminah said, ‘Hey, come outside with me while I take a smoke.’”
The story still makes Lisa laugh. She was so worried about meeting her idol, but when she finally met Aminah, she found her to be so welcoming and generous that it was disarming. To this day, she can’t remember the specifics of their conversation outside the gallery — she was in too great a state of awe to recall specifics.
“What I do remember is her telling me to be myself and to do the things that brought me passion. We were outside the gallery for a while. To the point where someone came out and said, ‘Uh, Aminah, you have guests,’” Lisa laughs. “It was very cool.”
“What I do remember is her telling me to be myself and to do the things that brought me passion.”
Aminah is the inspiration for Lisa’s piece in The Gallery at the Gateway Film Center, which is called “Queen Mother, Creative Messenger, Ms. Aminah, Jewel of Columbus.” Lisa, a Columbus native and mixed-media artist, originally created the piece shortly after Aminah’s passing as part of a tribute show.
Lisa says that Aminah was a constant inspiration; she was an internationally-recognized artist who grew up just a few blocks from Lisa’s childhood home, and she made an effort to tell the story of that neighborhood — Poindexter Village.
“I thought to myself, that’s what I want to be able to do. I want to be able to remain true to myself and touch and inspire people by speaking truth to power through my work the way I have watched and admired Ms. Aminah so beautifully and effortlessly do in her wonderful life’s work,” Lisa says. “She truly was a creative mother to many.”
“I want to be able to remain true to myself and touch and inspire people by speaking truth to power through my work the way I have watched and admired Ms. Aminah so beautifully and effortlessly do in her wonderful life’s work. She truly was a creative mother to many.”
Lisa’s piece in the Gateway Gallery does just that. Her work is, at the same time, clearly inspired by Aminah, yet distinctly unique to Lisa. It was the perfect choice for a Harlem Renaissance show because it uplifts contemporary art, while paying tribute to the legends who made the cultural landscape in Columbus what it is today.
Lisa’s piece is on display at the Gateway Gallery through the end of February.