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Beni Kosh Surreal Oil Painting

Beni E. Kosh (1917-1993)

Beni E. Kosh (also known as Charles Elmer Harris), 1917-1993

Steven Litt, art critic for  The Plain Dealer  (Cleveland) had this to say about Kosh in an article written in 1995, when the body of his work was discovered:

“Harris at his best was a powerful artist with a keen eye and a knack for painting both abstractions and representational imagery.  His identity as an African American comes through strongly not only in his choice of neighborhood scenes but in the inspiration he drew from African art and contemporary African American artists including [Jacob] Lawrence.”  

Charles Elmer Harris was born in 1917 in Cleveland, Ohio. He attended Central High School in Cleveland, and then enlisted as a merchant marine.  His tour led him to ports in North Africa, where he “discovered” his African heritage.  He eventually learned French and converted to Islam.  

In the 1960’s, he legally changed his name to Beni E. Kosh or “Son Of Ethiopia”. He was a student of Cleveland artist Paul Travis at the Cleveland Institute of Art and later connected to the “Sho Nuff Art Group”, a group of African-American artists, and the Karamu House artist group.  He developed vision problems and stopped painting by 1977.

Kosh scarcely ever exhibited or sold his work. It was not until the end of his life that his works were “rediscovered” and amassed recognition.  

Kosh’s work is noted in the catalog Yet Still, We Rise: African American Art in Cleveland 1920 – 1970 and included in exhibitions at the Cleveland State University and the Butler Institute of American Art.  (1996)

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