Portraits of the Resistance: African American Leaders and Thinkers

Nearly a year ago (I am posting this in January 2018), I painted a series of portraits of inspirational African-American men and women. It was January 2017, shortly after the inauguration and Women's March and I was in my illegal basement apartment watching Rep. John Lewis give his testimonial on CSPAN. Suddenly, I felt compelled to paint his portrait. I found some acrylic paints and worked quickly, using a still-frame of his testimonial as inspiration. Soon, other prominent African-American civil rights and civic leaders came to mind whose autobiographies and works I had recently read, or whose names I had recently heard mentioned.

Although I am not an African American scholar and cannot pretend to be, I have had a long interest in the subject. In college, I had the privilege of studying under some amazing professors and took several courses in African American history and literature. More recently, I picked up some additional books on the subject. If you ask me where my interest in African American history and literature comes from, I cannot give you a straight answer. It blows my mind that mass murder and sadistic torture could occur in a country that purports itself to be the beacon of freedom. Truly horrific. And the more you dig, the more depravity you find. And the sad thing is, there are still injustices committed every day in this country under the noses (and with the consent) of the politicians and elite.

Once I posted the images on social media, I received positive feedback and felt myself compelled to continue the "series." But then, I wondered, where would it take me? What was my motivation? To sell them? To receive validation from the African American community? Was I supposed to be a "good student" and stick to my subject matter, pillaging images of every notable African American whether or not I had been personally inspired by him or her? Am I willing to live my life with the same amount of bravery and conviction as these individuals? Or am I a coward hiding behind these noble portraits, afraid to stick my neck out, resigning myself to sending angry tweets into the abyss? The prospect of assassination is real. Just look at what happened to James Baldwin's friends. For when you speak up against considerable power, you brutally silenced. You are made an example of to remind everyone else to stay in line and to never question authority.

In the year since I worked on these portraits, my perspective on things has changed. I have pulled away from the exhausting cycles of the mainstream media and have decided to focus on self-enrichment instead. Anger eats us up inside. And we are so deliberately misinformed that we are actually angry at an illusion. I continue to do my research on subjects that interest me, reading an author or watching someone speak on YouTube, writing down a book mentioned, ordering it, reading it, reading what they suggest, and so on. I may return to this painting series in the future as I have yet to finish Dwight Lowell Dumond's hefty "Antislavery," Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s writings, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston...you get the picture. But the motivation must be pure of heart and never forced.


Malcom X (1925-1965)
Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 12 inches
January 18, 2017

Alex Haley (1921-1992)
Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 12 inches
January 19, 2017

Rep. John Lewis (b. 1940)
Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 12 inches
January 19, 2017

W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963)
Acrylic on canvas, 8 x 6 inches
January 25, 2017

Sojourner Truth (c.1797-1883)
Acrylic on canvas, 8 x 6 inches
January 25, 2017

Frederick Douglass (c.1818-1895)
Acrylic on canvas, 8 x 6 inches
January 25, 2017

Angela Davis (b. January 26, 1944)
Acrylic on canvas, 8 x 6 inches
January 26, 2017


Rep. Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005)
Acrylic on canvas, 18 x 36 inches
January 29, 2017
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