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Bessie Smith Cultural Center
Art Contest 2025

Create an image inspired by the poem “We Wear The Mask” by Paul Dunbar.


This year’s contest is in honor of local artist and educator Clifford Gordon. We Wear the Mask is a reconceptualization of African American racial identity by artist and educator, Clifford L. Gordon. The exhibit dives into the idea that identity is transitive, symmetric, and reflexive and introduces masks and face paint as metaphors to better understand identity. Gordon hopes by analyzing and interpreting the relationship between masks and identity, people will gain a deeper understanding of and appreciation for their own culture and “unmask” distorted self-identity complexities.

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.


Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

       We wear the mask.


We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

But let the world dream otherwise,

       We wear the mask!

In Memory Of Clifford Gordon


A native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, Mr. Clifford L. Gordon was an artist and Fine Arts Instructor at Columbia State Community College. He received his A.S from Chattanooga State Community College, B.S. from Tennessee State University and his M.F.A. from Memphis College of Art.


Red Paint

Contest Rules

  • All Mediums Accepted

  • Size 8" X 10" ready to hang with Velcro on back

  • All works must be registered at www.

  • All work must have printed registration form on back to enter

  • Delivery of work to the museum by January 17, 2025

Artist/Exhibitor grants permission for the Bessie Smith Cultural Center to reproduce his/her name, information describing his/her work, representations of his/her work and any other information he/she has provided for the purpose of display, promotion and publicity either now or in the future.

If Artist/Exhibitor is not available on-site to display, re-pack or re-transport his/her work, he/she gives permission to BSCC to do so on his/her behalf at his/her own risk and expense.

Release of Liability: The Bessie Smith Cultural Center shall not be liable for any injury to Artist/Exhibitor, their personnel, agents or employees or for any damage or loss of Artist’s/Exhibitor's work, equipment or other personal property arising out of the above exhibitions/displays, the mounting and/or any other activities involved in the preparation and/or presentation of the exhibitions/displays. Artist/Exhibitor agrees to assume all risk of damage to or loss of his/her own art from whatever cause. Artist/Exhibitor further agrees to release and to hold harmless the Bessie Smith Cultural Center its officers, directors, employees, volunteers and agents from any and all liabilities and damages to art work and/or persons as a result of any part of Artist’s/Exhibitor's participation in the Exhibit.

Indemnification: Artist/Exhibitor shall indemnify, save and hold harmless the Bessie Smith Cultural Center, its officers, directors, employees, volunteers and agents and the participating exhibition venues from any and all claims, demands, causes of action and judgments, losses, costs and expenses, including but not limited to reasonable attorney’s fees, arising due to the negligence of Artist/Exhibitor, their employees, agents or other personnel hereunder, including but not limited to any representation, warranty, term and/or condition of this Agreement.

Insurance: Artist/Exhibitor shall be solely and exclusively responsible to insure properly and adequately their work and property.

Assignment: Neither Party shall assign to transfer any of its rights or obligations under this Agreement and any attempt to do so shall be void and of no effect.

Waiver and Effective Nullity: Waiver by either party of any provision of this Agreement shall not operate or be construed as a waiver of any provision by such party at any time hereafter. The nullity of any provision hereunder shall not affect the validity or enforceability of the remaining provisions hereunder of the Agreement, which shall survive.

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