Six Jackson State University graduates, who range in age from 24 to 35, share a connection: All six earned a degree in art and hope to inspire and provoke a larger audience with their show "The Antidote: A Remedy to the Problem."
George Miles, Tony Davenport, Lorenzo Gaiden, Marques Phillips, Shambé and Felandus Thames are more at home expressing their thoughts—particularly about social and political issues—with paint brushes, canvases, cameras and just about any material they can get their hands on, rather than by shouting on the corner.
"The Antidote" combines several forms of artistic expression. Photography, woodburning, paint on canvas and even t-shirts fill the halls and showroom of Smith Robertson Cultural Center. Additionally, poetry and hip-hop cuts provide a soundtrack for the other art.
Miles explained with swelling passion how the concept for the show came to him. "I was listening to one of Jason Thompson's (a local hip-hop artist) tracks about our culture after 9/11. … I just kept thinking how cool it would have been to have a show with visual and performing artists feeding off each other's creativity under one roof."
Hip-hop is undeniably an important part of the show. It heightens the impact of the show, creating an atmosphere of social protest as the rhythm pulses in your chest.
"I'm a product of the hip-hop generation—the graffiti generation. I'm influenced by the art and music of my generation. The battles I fight within myself affect my view of the world," Phillips says. "I'm trying to purge myself of negative thoughts about myself so that I can reach my next phase as an artist and a man."
Spoken-word artistry is also a feature of the show. "If you can't see it visually," Shambé says, "it'll help you connect with word, the images that are displayed."
The more you listen to the young men, the more you hear frustration laced with hope about the society in which they live. The three artists all seem to share similar woes about being stereotyped and misunderstood as artists and men.
A piece that represents such confinement is Shambé's "America, the Blood is On Your Hands." In it, the blue stripes of the American flag symbolize bars behind which a black man is imprisoned. "You see it in the media," he says, "but in the artwork, you can really see what it's all about. The impact constraints can have."
Another hard-nosed piece that cannot be ignored is Tony Davenport's "Mississippi Turning." The background: an American flag. The foreground: convicted murderer Edgar Ray Killen. Killen's victims—James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner—rest in his conscience. The message of the work not only acknowledges our state's horrid past, but anxiously awaits the point at which more Mississippians actively seek to turn from our segregated past and embrace unity.
What more appropriate venue, the artists think, to see stories of despair and rays of hope than Smith Robertson, the first public school for African Americans in Jackson?
"The black art scene isn't spoken for well enough," Phillips says. "By this being held at the only black museum in the city, it's like going to the Olympics for black artists. Hopefully, the show will bridge the gap between the older generation and younger. We have to keep Smith Robertson relevant."
Miles says that this art show is bigger than each individual artist who has pieces in the show. "One artist couldn't have done this by himself. Everyone plays his part. We all have our own styles, our own techniques, and that's what makes it work."
"Antidote" will be on exhibit at the museum until Nov. 30. Miles also anticipates a show comprised of only female artists' work. "I believe 'The Antidote' will spark a change."
This unique collection of artists has joined forces to incite others to make a change—especially younger folks. "If we don't stand up and lead, what will the future look like?" Miles asks.