There's a lot of talk around what drives Black success in Atlanta. Much of that conversation centers on discussions about business opportunities and other commercial implications. But I actually believe Black success is bred from something a lot simpler...
... and that is Black visibility.
While we often fixate on the impact of negative representations of Black people in American media both historically and contemporaneously. What often goes unremarked is the more insidious act of Black erasure. Rather than Black people being invisible, systems have been in place to ensure that we are rendered “UN-visible”.
This is the deliberate act of denying our existence. Across the country a legacy of policies and practices have worked (and in many cases continue) to limit the spaces where Black people can go and simply be. So much so that it remains fairly common for Black people in many cities to refrain from attempting to occupy certain spaces - residential, cultural, political, intellectual, and so on...
But Atlanta is highly unique in this regard. Those same barriers simply do not exist in Atlanta as they do in other cities or other parts of the country. Black people are EVERYWHERE in Atlanta! In every room, at every table. And not just wealthy Black people, ALL Black people!
Regardless of class, socioeconomic status, neighborhood, education level, Black visibility is vibrant and diverse and affirming.
As an artist and someone invested in Black visual narratives and representation, Atlanta is an incomparable muse. Black visibility in Atlanta emboldens Black imagination and actualization. That kind of seeing and being seen is affirming and healing. Being able to see yourself...
... and be yourself creates space to further grow yourself. And we see the fruit that Atlanta’s Black visibility bears impacting the world!
For anyone familiar with my practice, you will know that music plays a big part. Growing up, music and visual art were always my biggest passions. As a child I sang in glee clubs and choirs. I played trombone in my middle and high school’s marching band and orchestras.
I also competed along with my rap group I talent shows and cafeteria rap battles. I moved to Atlanta in 1993 to attend the Atlanta College of Art. At the time my declared major was animation. But on my first day of classes, and in my very first class...
... my professor asked a provocative question: “What is Art?” I did not know what to say or how to respond. And that question haunted me for years. In fall of 1995, I got my copy of Goodie Mob’s debut album, “Soul Food” and everything changed.That album ignited a fire in me that changed the way I thought about the work I was making and the work I ultimately wanted to make! It was purposeful. It was relatable. It was powerful.
“Soul Food” in many ways became a blueprint for how I thought about my own artistic contributions. It was then that I began to understand that question that my professor had posed; What is art? I decided that I didn’t want to make simple, pretty pictures, but instead...
I wanted to create the type of work that would be as purposeful, relatable, and powerful as “Soul Food”. I wanted to make art that would nourish and heal.
While Atl’s rap scene set me on my course, it was also the underground music scene that gave me my first home. As a young artist working and fellowshipping in places like Yin Yang Cafe, Club Kaya, Club Mecca, the Patti Hut and more, I experienced my own Black Art Renaissance.
I spent my formative years with musicians and artists like Anthony David, India Arie, Jon Goode, Divinity Roxx, Dj Kemit, Kai Alce, Coach K, J. Carter and many many more. But I have to give a big shout to my running mate Salah Ananse! Riding shotgun with Salah...
Music continues to play a major role in my work and life and I feel grateful to be in a city like Atlanta, where the music scene is so monumental.
...I got introduced to genres of music and expression that I never even knew existed. His passion for music and encyclopedic knowledge of Atlanta’s music scene was contagious.