What does it mean to hold court? Once a phrase used to describe the circles of adoring devotees that formed around aristocrats, today holding court carries the possibility of protest. In a world that turns attention into asset, holding court can be an act of defiance—an intentional expression of care not to be wasted on matters trivial.
Holding court can honor the virtuous, the radical, the driven—the likes of artist Ernie Barnes (1938-2009) whose honest and dynamic depictions of the African-American experience are exemplary of his dedication to racial equity, civil rights, and social justice. In partnership with The Yetunde Price Resource Center—a community-focused organisation founded by Isha Price, Serena Williams, and Venus Williams to combat random acts of violence—Holding Court offers up four previously unseen works created by Barnes between 1986 and 2008.
“Ernie Barnes is an iconic Black artist my family and I have long admired. Through his vibrant imagery, he envisioned a colorful world of harmony between all communities, backgrounds, and races,” said Serena Williams. “Unity and community are two of the most important pillars the Yetunde Price Resource Center stands on, and we are excited to partner with JOOPITER on the Holding Court auction to continue to support families and individuals in need.”
Barnes’ success is rooted in community, too. Overlooked by the art world for most of his life, the athlete-turned-painter looked to those around him for inspiration and empowerment. He painted female basketball players, boxers suspended in motion mid-fight, runners racing to the finish line, and gymnasts twirling ribbons. They uplifted him in return. His friend Marvin Gaye, whom Barnes met playing basketball, collaborated with him on an album cover for I Want You of Sugar Shack, a masterful depiction of the fluidity of movement, rhythm, and dance. In his domestic representations, also, Barnes focused on shared moments: one painting depicts three women sitting on a sofa deep in conversation, bodies together, holding court. An instance of casual togetherness.
Like Barnes' art, which exemplifies the strength and beauty of collective bonds, the Yetunde Price Resource Center tirelessly strives to create safer communities, free from senseless violence. By working towards trauma prevention and offering support to the families of victims, the organisation embodies the same ideals and principles that Barnes advocated. “I began to see, observe, how blind we are to one another’s humanity,” Barnes once said. “We don’t see into the depths of our interconnection. The gifts, the strength, and potential within other human beings.” In the same vein, the Yetunde Price Resource Center works to bridge the divides between individuals and communities by promoting understanding and shared responsibility.
The parallels between Barnes's mission and the work of YPRC, which coalesce in Holding Court in a multitude of ways, are anything but elusive. “Ernie Barnes’ artwork played a profound role in creating societal change, and we hope this partnership will similarly inspire, uplift, and make a lasting difference in the lives of individuals and the communities we serve,” said Venus Williams.
Holding court is about directing our attention to what matters: empathy, compassion, and collective healing. In today’s world, one that is characterised by unprecedented connectivity yet pervasive detachment, Barnes' art has never been more relevant. His mission was to open our eyes—urging us not just to see but recognise one another; to respect and celebrate one another; to hold court. * All proceeds from Holding Court will go to supporting the work of the Yetunde Price Resource Center. *