Art can double as a mighty catalyst toward social reform, and some North Texas artists have continuously used their work as a weapon in the endless fight against racism and injustice. In a time of deep social unrest, the work of these local artists stands out for having a unifying message.
Obidi Nzeribe, a photographer with a bold eye, tells powerful stories with his photos.
“I believe images are some of the most powerful storytelling techniques, and for the longest time it has been seen from one perspective — the white perspective," Nzeribe says. "From the dehumanization of the African people by the colonialists to the criminalization of African Americans by the white media, we have seen, and —for some of us — experienced how harmful this narrative can be."
The photographer grew up in Nigeria and says he was shocked after moving to America to learn "that groups of
people were misrepresented/stereotyped, and forced them to conform to European beauty standards."
"This pushed me to not only be a better storyteller, but a louder one," Nzeribe says. "I believe everyone should pick a medium and tell their stories because we have centuries of unlearning that need to be done, of pain and hurt that doesn’t need to be passed down to the next generation."
Nzeribe has a quote that sums up his philosophy.
"My favorite author, Chinua Achebe, said it best with, ‘Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will glorify the hunter.'"
For Denton painter Mickey Wright, creating her own world in her paintings is an important escape. She says that growing up she was "never really taught about black painters, sculptors, performance artists, et cetera."
"Art can be distributed in so many different ways, and I believe that anything can be a canvas," Wright says. "Stories, heartaches, injustices, pictures, places, things, all can be recreated on a canvas. I try my hardest to really reflect healing whenever I paint."
Wright says art serves both a therapeutic purpose for the artist creating it and a sense of happiness in the viewer. But, depending on their race, the work of many deserving artists isn't available to those viewers.
"So many black artists struggle with getting their work shown or even making a profit off of it, and I really want to change that," Wright says. "Sharing black artists’ work helps more than anyone thinks. Even if you can’t buy something from them, make it a goal to share and be an admirer of their work.”
As a painter who specializes in brightly colored and heavily detailed painting and design, Brandon Harris uses his work to, “inspire, through all actions I take and disciplines I explore."
"My goal is to create powerful pieces that expand insight and understanding," he says. "The audience should be
enamored by the magnificence of my work, in every aspect, from subject matter, to execution, to the narrative presented in each individual piece and overarching themes that resonate through all that I do."
Harris is conscious of the universality in an artist's motifs.
"These pieces come from me and my experiences, however they are designed to transcend my own existence," he says. "The universal truth is that we all, regardless of appearance or progeny, have experienced uncertainty, injustice, pain, fear and loss. All we can do, what we must do, is overcome. Through my art I have been allowed to supersede my own adversities."
Each work offers an opportunity for self-reflection.
"I feel that art is a way to magnify a concept and its message," Harris says. "... My truest wish is that people see what I do and realize that the art is not the painting, but the power the painting holds. My art is how I channel my ability to implement change in the minds of my audience and inspire them to discover the greatness within themselves.”
MATTIE, aka Mattie Mystic, is a Dallas musician whose work is largely visual. Her live sets are nothing short of performance art.
“I feel that my music highlights the journey inward, the ugly truth about myself, or who I have thought myself to be," she says of her work. " I feel that the injustices that are harbored deep within this country’s systems are able to continue surfacing against its black citizens due to a lack of true introspection and honesty."
The artist's message is that we look to make inward changes before tackling the world at large.
"I continue to be an advocate for meeting your internal crossroads and being honest with yourself even to the point of discomfort," she says. "In order to see a change in the world that surrounds us we must be willing to take a closer look at ourselves. Social justice can only be a reflection of those that are willing to dismantle the wrongs that are deeply institutionalized there to systematically oppress black lives."
MATTIE is an outspoken champion for civil rights.
"I don’t honestly know that there is something greater than change that will occur within this system during my lifetime," she says of racial equality. "What I do know is that because this system has no respect for black citizens that don’t work in accordance to their political interest, their business plans seem to involve either killing black lives or trying to make them rich. As though they get to be the ones to determine either. Black lives matter. Your approval? Not needed.”
Melarie Odelusi uses her skills as an illustrator to celebrate the beauty of being black.
“To be honest, I am filled with so much emotion that it’s difficult for me to articulate what I am feeling at this moment," she says of the recent protests.
The artist is trying to keep her head clear during these life-altering times.
"Being a black woman and simply creating from my perspective of life is an act of activism," she says.
"Everything that I create comes from what I believe and value in my life so it will always be created from the voice of a black woman.
Odelusi says that one of her favorite ways to create is through illustrating portraits.
"I believe that portraits hold a thousand words of this story that this person has to tell, as a lesson or testimony that someone needs to hear to ignite joy, hope and life in them," she says. "By illustrating for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, I am honoring their stories and lives because they matter. Black stories matter. Black voices matter. Black lives matter.”
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.