Race, History, and Identity: Introducing Two Young Black Artists
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a black man was killed by a white police officer by brute force of strangulation which was not taught to do in training. This caused an uproar in the United States that marked the beginning of protests and potential systemic change. What was different about George Floyd’s case was that it was well documented and released on social media. The video was the visual proof that black people are hurt everyday by systemic racism. Breonna Taylor was killed by a police force just two months before George Floyd’s death. The police suspected that Breonna’s boyfriend was selling controlled substances. No drugs were found in the house. The footage of George Floyd circulated in social media very fast. This much attention and action was not given to police brutalities in the past. When we have everyone’s attention and are infuriated and disgusted at what is happening in the states and all over the world, now is the best time for positive change to happen.
I am introducing two talented black identifying artists residing in Kansas City. Their work is a deep investigation of their own race, history, and identity but have very different approaches and methods.
Jada Patterson works with a range of materials- ceramics, texts, synthetic hair, wood, and black soap. These she explores themes of African American identity, womanhood, death and decay. All of her work carries emotional weight. I was drawn to her work first because of its beauty, then my eyes glazed over each mark that she made. On one of her wall sculptures, “Pieces that Crumble”, braided hair is imprinted on pieces of porcelain. Part of the sculpture, a small drawer, has its interior facing towards the viewer revealing its contents, makeup covered in a yellow substance one must assume from the description to be cocoa butter. Porcelain pieces are covering the part of the drawer and it has words that read “Everything will be destroyed.” The sentence makes you think for a little bit. My mind went to the fragility of the porcelain and current events- the police brutality.
Jada tries to connect to her African Ancestry and brings in rich history to her work. Such as she describes in her artist statement, “I am deeply interested in traditions surrounding African rituals, especially those related to hair, which slipped through the cracks of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and black soap and shea butter surfaces reference the ritualistic cloaking of African-ness when I cover myself and my work with it.” One of the portrait busts, “Ancestral Bust, Mother of Stolen” has hollow eyes that looked back at me, leaving me with a feeling of uneasiness.” The bust is rather tall, having its physical presence as though to claim the history it has not claimed before.
Nehemiah’s paintings are satirical, fantastical, and political. He brings in mythologies and American histories. Saturated color and line work first catches the viewers’ attention. Blue, magenta, yellow, and green are most often used but earth tones are not neglected. Although cartoonish in nature, the highlights he gives to objects and people plus the excellent line work outlining muscle definitions to the bodies of its characters help them resemble true to life.
As for the content of his works, they depict violence and fragmented dismembered bodies. In “Violent by Design”, two members from the Ku Klux Klan are beating and shanking what appears to be a blue demon- which is a substitute for a black body. KKK is a major white supremacist organization emerged in the late 1860’s in the South of the United States.
In “2020”, blue-bodied Medusa holding a sword in front of two blind folded white haired babies- one holding a gavel and the other a flute. White babies represent the Founding Fathers and Medusa is a black person, going back in time to revenge.
His paintings are very much relevant today. He brings in the dark side of American history to communicate the injustice and racism still going on today, forcing viewers to reflect on the past and look at the present to think critically of what needs to be done to end the racism.