Nestled comfortably between pop art and art nouveau is “Afro-Lution,” an emerging, evocative art movement that’s sure to put the art world on notice.
Incorporating bold colors with eye-catching geometrics and African American subjects oozing royalty and power, visual artist James Nelson’s new installation at Nych Gallery in Chicago is an innovative, conversation-igniting exhibit. Through carefully curated pieces, he reminds us of our rich heritage, while simultaneously urging us to get back to our regal roots.
Rolling out had a few minutes to delve into the brain of James Nelson to capture the interpretations and intricacies of Afro-Lution.
Where did you pull inspiration for Afro-Lution?
My inspiration comes from the Afro-Punk movement. I see it as a subculture that’s on the rise. I see the evolution of African people. Pop art was a big influence, too.
I was gazing at Fanta and she oozed sassiness. She had her hand on her hip and I noticed that most of her face was gray, but there was one triangular portion highlighted. What’s the meaning behind that?
I’ve been doing a lot of upside down pyramids. You can see the eye highlighted in the triangle. What I’m doing is focusing on receiving information from the universe and that comes from the third eye. You’ll see a lot of this in my pictures. I talk about the third eye and about reaching a high level of consciousness. Many of us are thinking with that reptilian brain and we need to expand the way we think; a paradigm shift. It’ll make things a lot different for us as a people.
Speaking of eyes, I noticed two paintings where the subject’s eyes were glazed over with no pupils.
I love that because a lot of people perceive that differently. Some may think it’s someone that has a demonic presence or without a soul, but with me, it’s the total opposite. I’m really inspired by comic books. In comics, glazed eyes represent a super powered being or a formidable force or opponent.
I see Erykah Badu is one of the muses in your paintings. For the others, are they models or figments of your imagination?
Some are models, locals, peers, and some did come out of my imagination.
You use a lot of canvas as your base. Is there a specific reason you choose that over other materials?
It’s just something I’m used to using. I’ve recently started getting into a lot of woodworking, as you can see on one of my pieces, but I prefer canvas. Sometimes working with wood can be a bit bothersome; the wood absorbs into the paint so you have to do a lot of preparation.
We absolutely have to discuss the headpiece on Isis because it’s nothing short of amazing. Please explain the intricate headpiece.
That piece is like a helmet but also a symbol of the Egyptian Sun God Horus. You can also see the third eye that relates to the pineal gland. When the pineal gland is activated you begin to reach a certain level of consciousness. We [humanity] kind of lost sight of that and need to reconnect.
As people are walking around gazing at the fruits of your labor, what do want them to take away from your pieces when they leave?
Afro-Lution. I want them to remember we are a strong people that have been oppressed, but capable of every and anything. We have the power to develop a system that will allow us to rise. We don’t have to be stuck in this oppressed state. Afro-Lution is where evolution and revolution stem from. It’s what it’s really all about.
Walking around this exhibit, the one thing that stood out the most to me was royalty. How important is it to showcase African Americans in this state, especially in the current climate?
It’s so important. I did a show titled “BLVCK X GOLD” and I talked about the importance of knowing our value as a Black culture, especially in Chicago. I don’t think people remember or understand how royal and precious we are. Many are selling their souls and killing their own just for a dollar. It’s happening every day and it’s sad. I just want them to understand that you don’t have to kill yourself over a dollar because a dollar can be made just an easy if you get out here and hustle. You don’t need to kill your own brothers and sisters.
Afro-Lution will be showing at Nych Gallery, 643 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60616, until June 4. Please get out and support a great exhibit. In the meantime, check out a few more pictures below: