Reimagining how to represent Black lives through art: Part 10

Artists like Brandan Odums are shining a new light on Black life through their art, emphasizing family, community and the rich culture that comprises the Black experience.
6:54 | 06/19/21

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Transcript for Reimagining how to represent Black lives through art: Part 10
We are living in a black art renaissance. Artists today are pushing the envelope and using their creative power to amplify messages of revolution and resilience. Here's ABC's janai Norman. Inspiration. Expression. Reflection. For generations, black visual artists have showcased our beauty and provoked critical thought. From Jacob Lawrence's portraits of life in the Harlem renaissance to faith Ringgold's vibrant paintings and silhouettes by Kara walker. The works of change makers in the arts help us reimagine the narrative of representation and black life. Artists play such a vital role in community. And the ways that we see change happen quite literally. It makes me think the photo of the child who was looking at Amy sherald's portrait of Michelle Obama in the national portrait gallery. Those opportunities for young people to understand that you can be exalted, that you can be made beautiful. That you are beautiful. Some say we're in the age of a new black renaissance. Rising out of Louisiana is brandan bmike Odums. His artistic voice is challenging mainstream ideas about blackness. His provocative murals, daring to show black people in a new light. Emphasizing family and community. His collaborations questioning norms. This work titled "Know just us, know peace" reimagines policing. We did a workshop where we asked questions like, "What does a world without police look like?" And so one of the kids came up with this idea. They said, what if when police cars pull up, there's a therapy set up in the back of the car? And we said, okay, how do we turn it into an art piece?" And so someone said, well, let's flip a police car upside down and put a therapy set up on top. I see over here, to protect and serve and it says, "Believe in blue." So, that "Believe in blue" is something you guys did intentionally. Yeah, we did that just to kind of create that conversation in response to black lives matter, there was blue lives matter. So we just wanted to, like, create this juxtaposition with this car. A lot of times when our stories are being told, they're at one of two ends of extremes. It's either excellence or trauma. But you're saying that you try to find a way in your art to cover the spectrum. Yeah. Let's put it this way -- so, I started off painting the all-stars, you know what I mean? Like, the lionized people in our history. You see a lot of that. You see Dr. King, you see Fannie Lou Hamer, you see Paul Robeson. You see these people that remind us of how great we are and how our potential can be. But then somewhere along the line I decided that you know it would be equally as valuable to uplift the everyday people, the everyday voices. Your thing is that they're just somebody and that's special enough? Yeah, they exist, they live, they think, they breathe, they have dreams, they have fears. Art has that ability to spread that level of empathy. I think black art, in particular, has this responsibility with that empathy, because I acknowledge that my art can go places that I can't. Color on the background? Oh, I see. So it will be like -- I got you. That's smart. The evolution of the human, but it's like with the past and the present. And brandan says it's so important for him to pass the torch by mentoring young artists. This is where the trombone shorty will be. What is juneteenth mean to y'all then? I feel like juneteenth is -- it's definitely replaced, like, my July 4th. It's like replacing the fourth of July, and it's like a black liberation Yeah, like grateful for, like, just black joy and just, like black community. Today they are workshopping a new mural that will celebrate juneteenth and the rich culture of New Orleans. And their work is also honoring the elders. Designing a bus that will feature portraits of two of the city's living freedom riders. The idea behind it was to honor the freedom riders. And so I had did portraits of them. I did a portrait of Jerome Smith. Trying to capture, like, the modern day version of him. Jerome Smith was just 22-years-old when he joined the freedom riders, protesting bus segregation across the south by doing something that was illegal at the time, simply sitting next to someone who was white. Jerome, of course, would be arrested, and on November 29, 1961 in Mccomb, Mississippi, while sitting in the bus terminal's white waiting room, Jerome and four other freedom riders were beaten. Among them, doratha smith-simmons. Jerome signaled for Alice and I to come to the waiting room. When he did that, all hell broke loose. White men with brass knuckles beat Jerome within an inch of he suffers from that beating today. We were in New Orleans as the rta revealed that bus, honoring those legends and commemorating juneteenth. One, two, three. Wrapped in their portraits, documenting the fight for desegregation. Ms. Dottie, what do you think about how important it is for the next generation to know your story? Well, it's very important, not for the next generation, but this generation and all that are here now. How did you guys feel when they lifted up the veil on this bus? You'll always be thankful for this kind of thing, but you have to always remember those that could not be here today. Honoring our history and exalting our heroes, brandan bmike Odums continues to serve through inspiration. And that juneteenth mural with the young artists is almost complete. But his life's work as an agent for change in art remains unfinished. This is the time when artists go to work. Nina Simone said, it's an artist's duty to reflect the times. We reflect but also imagine, imagining what you don't see and allowing art to be sort of like this prism into a world we hope to create.

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