Over the years I have developed a museum viewing process that helps me understand art in a way that makes me feel inspired. My process is simple: I show up to an exhibit, put my AirPods in and play a specific album from beginning to end to see if my synthesia kicks in to enhance my experience. The soundtrack for viewing the”Black American Portraits” exhibit was Young Thug‘s recent “PUNK” album.
Every now and then I pick an album and if it doesn’t fit the criteria for an art museum. it’s probably not a good album. But “PUNK” definitely added to my viewing experience.
The textures of the song “Faces” meshed well with the beautiful, bold colors of Kehinde Wiley’s piece titled Yachinboaz Ben Yisrael II. The song “Bubbly” was on brand with Jerrell Gibbs Top Shelf piece. I do this to really immerse myself in a creative mental space to come up with new ideas. Viewing the “Black American Portraits” exhibit while listening to “Thugga Thugga” made me feel at home; I did not feel like I was attending an art museum.
The exhibit space was pretty busy and it was inspiring to see people from many other cultures and ethnic backgrounds trying to learn about Black culture. The best way to learn about anyone’s culture is to fully immerse yourself into it.
Introducing my homies to the art world is always fun for me because when anyone new to viewing art asks, “So what am I supposed to see in this piece?” my favorite phrase to respond with is, “See what you want to see as long as it makes you feel something.” I was taught in one of my mediocre art classes that good art is either something you absolutely love or you absolutely hate and there’s no in between. Art in general has always made me feel something, especially Black art by Black artists because I can relate to that artist’s story by being Black myself.
The artists and pieces featured in the Black American Portraits exhibit all tell stories of where the artist’s head was or the story of the subject. Being able to see that clearly in the works by the artists featured brings the viewer into Black culture which gives people from other cultures the opportunity to learn about our culture. Art is one of the best ways to learn about a subject, topic, or culture.
Not everyone wants to read history books and take the time to do the research to go and learn about another culture, and the quickest and best way to communicate a message sometimes is through art. What I appreciated most about the pieces featured in this exhibit was that many pieces were either oil on canvas or acrylic on canvas pieces. If you look at the history of art, many of the pieces we still have from hundreds of years ago were created using those materials because they are able to last a very long time.
Being that this is art by Black artists, I’m glad that the longevity and life of these pieces will last and future generations will be able to use the art as a history timestamp within our culture to get an idea on what was going on during this time period. As the phrase goes, “You don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve come from.”
Artists such as Kehinde Wiley, Jerrell Gibbs, Kenturah Davis, and Mr. Wash are not only creating history, they are developing a marker for future generations to reference back to if they need some history on how far we have come as a culture.
It always feels good being a part or witnessing history in the moment. I was able to witness people from many different walks of life come and learn about my culture. Many conversations currently are about educating each other about our different cultures and how we can coexist. If we are willing to learn about each other’s past and present, it will help us build our future together.
Many of these artists are not only telling their stories, they are expressing their pain or joy in being Black in America. Being a Black man in America, many of those stories resonate with me and I can relate to the different narratives which makes me feel at home when I attend these exhibits. It also builds confidence in being proud of being Black because these pieces show strength within our culture and how we have persevered through tough times and have celebrated and remained strong throughout our journey in America as a people.
One of the first pieces you see when you begin the exhibit are the Obama portraits by Kehinde Wiley. White, Black, Latino, and Asian viewers stood in awe and snapped as many photos as they could of the colorful portraits of Michelle and Barack Obama created by Kehinde Wiley painted using oil on canvas. This moment expressed power and joy.
The colors are bright and vibrant which conveys a message of confidence and happiness to the viewer. Michelle and Barack Obama are icons within our culture that not only Black people can admire but many others across different ethnic backgrounds because they represent hope.
Kehinde Wiley did a great job of expressing this through his high naturalistic paintings. Seeing Kehinde’s work in the LACMA museum is the cherry on top because Kehinde is from Los Angeles and seeing his art in the largest museum in L.A. is enough to give anyone motivation and hope to achieve the same level of success.
Editor’s Note: The iconic portraits of President and First Lady Obama painted for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery have caused such a sensation in the United States that they have a tour all their own. It’s the city of Los Angeles’s turn and the exhibit is open now through January 2nd at LACMA, the Los Angles County Museum of Art. President Barak Obama’s portrait was painted by artist Kehinde Wiley and the first lady was painted by artist Amy Sherald. In addition to the Obama’s portraits, a complementary exhibit, Black American Portraits, is accessible to all ticket holders.