"Embracing Diverse Voices," the largest of the three collections in the Bakersfield Museum of Art's winter exhibitions that open this evening, is well-named.

In a way that is historic as well as artistic, it highlights the work of black artists over a period of 80 years.

"The exhibit contains over 65 works by 30 artists, and explores the diversity of experience and expression among American artists of African descent through paintings, photography, sculpture, book arts and prints," said Vikki Cruz, curator.

It ranges in time from the 1920s, when photographer James Van Der Zee did portraits of ordinary residents as well as luminaries of Harlem to versatile Romare Bearden'scollages done in the mid-20th century, and the sculptures and prints of Elizabeth Catlett, the granddaughter of slaves, who died this year at age 96.

Organized by the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts in Kalamazoo, Mich., the exhibit will be on display through March 10, so it coincides with Black History Month. Cruz said that was another reason it was selected for the winter run of exhibits.

Although the dates are yet to be set, a number of events related to the exhibit are planned during February, including a documentary video about African Americans. It will be played on Bright House Networks channel 300 and on YouTube and BMOA's website.

Also part of the winter exhibition is "You, Me, Them," featuring the works of Mequitta Ahuja and Robert Pruitt. Both are contemporary artists of African descent whose work examines cultural identity through portraiture. A collage titled "Autocartographer III" is one of her newer pieces in the exhibit. It was made using acrylic, waxy chalk and oil on stamped, collaged paper.

In an email message, Pruitt commented on one of his drawings, "Brother Going to Gliese 581C." He created it using conte, charcoal and gold leaf on hand-dyed paper.

"That drawing is similar to much of the work that I make in that it is about a type of escapism," he said. "Gliese 581C is a planet in a system about 22 light years from Earth."

When it was discovered, it was believed it might be able to support life. Pruitt sees it as tool to imagine an alternate future.

"It is difficult for us to imagine a world where race plays a different role in our consciousness, one where being black is not a deficient position," he said. "Attempting to describe that world is almost like science fiction. Most of (my) works are about looking toward this future."

The third part of the exhibition is "Textures of Place," paintings by contemporary California artists John Cosby and William Wray. Both have exhibited at BMOA before but this the first time they have exhibited together.

"The two are favorites among community members, so we decided to welcome them back for a two-man show," Cruz said. "Both painters will exhibit a wide variety of California's scenery, from expansive coastal shores to Bakersfield's own backyard."

Cosby, Wray and Pruitt are all expected to be at tonight's reception.