Cultured Studios Opens Shades of Melanin in New London

Bruce Kern


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NEW LONDON — Artist Kern Bruce began painting a mural at the pop-up show, “Shades of Melanin,” at Cultured Studios Friday night. 

“Over time the mural is going to grow and I’m going to be incorporating people that are in the gallery tonight writing different messages about what they’re grateful for and people that they’ve lost,” he said. “So, it’s a living, breathing testimony of life, purpose and perseverance despite the odds. 

Bruce, 38, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago, said he wanted to make a piece in honor of Black history month and Women’s history month, which were February and March respectively.

“We didn’t have the opportunity to do art during that time so I wanted to do something now while I can,” said Bruce, who has been a resident artist at the Hygienic Artists Co-operative since December. 

“I lost folks during the pandemic and they live through me and through my deeds and through how I treat other people. So it’s very important to show love and to show light so that’s why I’m here tonight,” he said. 

Also featured in the show was the work of photographer Letif Belcher, 36, who lives in Bridgeport. 

“My inspiration has been to capture the things that I wish that I saw more, which are people with natural hair, people with natural bodies, and more people of color as well — that’s what I like to take pictures of,” said Belcher. 

The show is the first opening in the new Cultured Studios space, said Juanita Austin, creative director and founder of Cultured AF, which runs Cultured Studios. 

Letif Belcher

“This is our second space. The first one we closed April of last year because of COVID — we decided not to renew our lease, so we were doing virtual programming for a while,” she said. “We reopened [here] with just the boutique space in December and we just now finished the art lounge in April.”

The gallery features all artists of color, most of whom identify as Black, as well as queer and Black queer artists, she said. 

Cultured Studios, which won a CT Entrepreneur award in 2021, is conceived as an art and music lounge and is furnished with comfortable couches and chairs, she said. 

“I really wanted a gallery space that is more interactive than the typical gallery where people kind of walk in, they look and leave. I wanted a space where people could sit with the art, be with it and feel at home with art, which is why I typically call my space a lounge rather than just a gallery,” she said. 

The space will also feature poetry, open mike nights and music events once pandemic rules are lifted, Austin said. 

Located at 237 State Street in New London, Cultured Studios is open Thursdays and Fridays 3 to 7 p.m., Saturdays 12 to 6 p.m. and Sundays 12 to 4 p.m. For more information, send an email to