Contemporary African American Art: The District of Columbia & Maryland
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Contemporary African American Art
The District of Columbia & Maryland
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Isaac Davies (IZK), Jerod Davies (DTOX), Jose May (SKILZ), and Baltimore community

members, Power of the People (2015)

Spray paint on brick (78’ x 36’)

Photographed by Rameen Aminzadeh

Power of the People mural was commissioned by Beats Rhymes & Relief (BRR) and painted by BRR artists IZK (Isaac Davies), DTOX (Jerod Davies), and SKILZ (Jose May), along with other local artists, activists, and community members from across Baltimore. After the tragic murder of Sandtown resident Freddie Gray and subsequent protests and uprisings, BRR founders Rameen Aminzadeh and Omar Al-Chaarorganized a community mural designed to take control of the narrative surrounding the protests and combat the misrepresentations in mainstream media that diminished the countless peaceful protests.

The Power of the People mural was meant to be an interactive piece of art that would transform throughout the years as conditions changed. The original version began with a multitude of puzzle pieces that represented the “puzzling event” that embodied the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Gray’s untimely death. A layer of actual newspaper articles with headlines from the protests and uprisings in Baltimore was pasted onto the wall, then members of the community were invited to paint over these articles with messages such as “Where are the jobs?” and words of encouragement like “Strength, Hope, Peace, Love and Unity.” [End Page 790] These messages were encased in larger-than-life puzzle pieces put into place by the youth of Baltimore, as if to say that they would be in charge of telling the real story that would be remembered in history. All along the mural were handprints from all the community members, artists, and activists who came out and participated in the painting of the mural. At the top of the mural was a portrait of Freddie Gray gazing off in the distance as if he was watching over the city with hopes that his story would bring about some real change.

On August 15, 2015, BRR partnered with the Freddie Gray Project, an organization cofounded by Aminzadeh and Freddie Gray’s best friend, Brandon Ross, and several other local and national organizations to host a block party to celebrate the culture and community of Baltimore. They provided food and music, along with free haircuts and bags filled with school supplies to prepare the kids of Baltimore to return to school, while the BRR team updated the mural. The second version of the mural added a glow-in-the-dark “Power of the People” title surrounded by a beautiful galaxy and a cityscape in the middle to replace the negative news articles. A new puzzle piece was also added, depicting imagery of the Freddie Gray Project’s #BmoreSuccessful program, an economic empowerment platform for Baltimore’s youth. [End Page 791]

Courtesy of Beats Rhymes & Relief / Freddie Gray Project

We are now able to look at contemporary art in all its facets . . . recapturing those who were recessed as well as those artists now emerging onto the scene. It is a wonderful moment to take stock of the remarkable breadth of contemporary African American and [other] African-Diasporic art in all its nuance.

Valerie Cassel Oliver

In its variety of content, concerns, forms, materialities, etc., the visual art collected here is intended to introduce our readers to the visual art now being created in the DC-MD area, where the NMAAHC, a major American institution, is on the verge of unveiling itself as repository and caretaking monument to the triumph of African Americans—their lives and history and their culture, of which visual art is an integral component. Notes introducing each visual artist are comprised of brief biographical sketches, artist statements, and the artists’ comments on their practices and productions. Readers of this issue of Callaloo • Art will also discover portfolios containing full-color reprints that serve as representative samples of each of the artists’ artworks. Our aim here is to provide our readers with a cross section of the various kinds of work that contemporary artists of the DC-MD area are currently creating.

Contemporary visual art, like other kinds of art currently being...