UPRISING

September 26th, 2020  |  Published in September 2020

The year 2020 has shined a spotlight on the issue of racial injustice in the United States in general and police violence committed against minorities specifically.  An element of the protest against this abuse has been artwork on streets and walls and screens across the country. Posters have been created both boldly sophisticated as well as brutally simple to express frustration and rage as well as inspire change.  Although posters of protest are not a new concept, Jymi Bolden has seized the moment to curate a unique exhibit outside Kennedy Heights Art Center which addresses the other fixture of 2020, viewing a visual art exhibit in a global pandemic.  Ten works are represented in a weather resistant format along a driving path that circumnavigates the Art Center with artists’ statements available on the back of each image or through a scan code.  This elegant solution means that all images are viewable without leaving a vehicle or are able to be examined closely on foot. By combining artists of varying ages, Bolden drives home the idea that the occurrences which spurred the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement are not new and have existed as business-as-usual in this country throughout its history.

Jimi Jones’s “Prelude To After The Hunt” is perhaps the most symbol-laden work in this show.  Around the scene and characters of an English fox hunt, Jones has portrayed members of society as members of the hunt in relation to their role in systemic racism.  The scene is divided into hounds, masters, group riders, and in the background sharecroppers picking cotton.  Implied within this caste system is the existence of a fox who is hunted for sport, only because the organized Hunt has the ability to chase and harass the fox.  We are asked to see ourselves in the hunting party.  The violent end of the fox is offscreen but savage in its implication.  From the viewpoint of the fox, it does not matter if one rider is simply following what the master of the hunt is ordering.  Jones indicates well that being a passive member of the hunting group is no consolation to the fox, and varying degrees of culpability assumed by the stations or castes within the party are not excuses when “after the hunt” the retribution is taken.

Jimi Jones
“Prelude To After The Hunt”
Digital Image

Gee Horton’s “If I ruled the world…” is an immediate take on what it means to be a young black male in America today.   Horton shows an adolescent looking in the mirror, imagining himself as an amalgamation of African and current American aesthetic styles.  A ‘Parental Advisory’ warning is in the upper corner as he sees himself on an album cover. The gold on his ring and his teeth is gold leaf which aligns with the background to give the only contrast in this charcoal and graphite portrait.  Horton intends to ask what aspirations a young black man can have now.  Is he American? Is he African?  And by imagining himself, he sees himself as others see him.   What opportunities are available to him that he does not have to create?  Horton places the boy in a frame.  His question is “What frame do we place young black men in when seeing them?”.  An attitude of self- assurance and defiance is evident but the young man pulling his lower lip down to display his gold.  But this confidence of youth is also unsure of its identity.  Horton asks what future could this young man have when how we see him and how he sees himself limit so much of his life.

Gee Horton
“If I ruled the world…”
Charcoal, Graphite Pencil, and Gold Leaf

Fifty-one years ago, the country was then also wracked by protests and civil rights abuses.  A divisive Republican president who would soon use Roger Stone as a young “Dirty Trickster” promised law and order and refused to listen to young Americans pleas for peace and justice.  In response, a massive demonstration and later a march on Washington took place that fall called the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam.  Melvin Grier was a young photographer out of the Air Force who attended the Moratorium in Washington D.C. and took a powerful image in front of the Washington Monument.

Melvin Grier
“Vietnam Moratorium, October 15, 1969
Photograph from 35mm negative

The war in Vietnam saw up to that point the highest percentage of African-American soldiers in combat, and African-Americans had a greater chance of being conscripted into the armed forces than their white counterparts.  Placing this war in the midst of struggle for and some progress with basic civil rights made the Moratorium about race and class as much as about youth and war.  Then as now, young people were the vanguard in action against injustice against a system and an administration which was ignorant of their demands and sought to keep them from voting or protesting.  Perhaps the most optimistic image from “UPRISING”, Grier’s work shows that the protests and struggles of today can bring about some change as the protests of decades ago did.  Although racial injustice is still alive and well the history of actions by demonstration at times bring results, if incrementally.  The major difference between the ‘60s and today is the new (to whites) emphasis on systemic racism.

UPRISING

Kennedy Heights Arts Center (Outdoor Grounds)

September 12-November28

–Will Newman

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