Artist Roberto Lugo, whose works can be found in the Smithsonian, the Met in New York City, and the High Museum, may not be a household name yet, but his paintings and ceramics were front and center in Supervisory Special Agent (ret.) John Martinec’s art collection, which was displayed at the U.S. Department of State’s Harry S Truman Building in Washington, D.C., Feb. 13, 2023. Lugo’s works were only part of Martinec’s collection on display for State Department personnel to view during the event, which was sponsored by the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) DEIA Council to commemorate Black History Month.
I don’t collect art—I collect artists, and the stories they have to tell,” said Martinec who provided a brief overview of the 52 works on display, which included art by Benny Andrews, Kadir Nelson, Morrie Turner, and Nate Lewis, just to name a few. “It’s important to remember that African American art is American art—and the work of Black artists should be celebrated for their significant contribution to American art history.”
Martinec explained that the tea-time ceramic works by Lugo were displayed on clay water vessels brought back from Burundi, Sudan, and Darfur, linking the universal notion of hospitality. Just as these large clay vessels are left along the road to hold refreshing water for parched passersby to stop, have a drink, and a chat, so too do the ceramic teapots, cups, and plates featuring African American leaders and icons such as Benjamin Banneker, Dr. Lilie Mae Carroll Jackson, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Erykah Badu, and DMX, provide refreshment and an opportunity to be social.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield dropped by the exhibition and was given a personal tour by Martinec.
DSS leadership was fully represented at the exhibition with Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security Gentry Smith, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Carlos Matus, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Cornell Chasten in attendance.
This was not the first exhibit that Martinec hosted for DSS. He arranged a similar exhibit at DSS headquarters during Black History Month in 2020.
“Today, just as in 2020, John provided us with a unique experience in sharing his formidable collection—and I was fortunate to have been able to attend both,” said Assistant Secretary Smith. “This exhibit is only one example of the important contributions made by African Americans throughout our nation’s history and helps to remind us of the important role that diversity and inclusion plays in our daily lives.”