An art exhibition that boosts the conversation
Jake Mason-Macklin, Pleasure N' Pain (The Next Level of Flight), detail
For a month this fall, a survey of work by five artists of color filled the MINT Collective gallery space on Columbus’ South Side with artworks interrogating the idea of mobility, particularly for people who are black or who live in low-income areas. BOOST MOBILE, whose title nods to the cell phone service provider that markets itself to urban communities, explored questions like, “What are the things that people say every day, but overlook? What are the concealed structures, and what are the obscured structures that limit people’s mobility?” said curator Jake Mason-Macklin, whose work appears in the show alongside fellow Columbus residents Tyler Davis and Cameron Granger, as well as that of New York’s Rodolfo Diaz and Kamron Hazel, a student at Maryland Institute College of Art.
The show not only gained traction in Columbus, where it saw its scheduled run extended, it also drew the attention of Vice Media’s The Creators Project.
Below, three of the artists with ties to Columbus College of Art & Design — Mason-Macklin (Fine Arts, 2017), Davis (Fine Arts, 2018), and Granger (Cinematic Arts, 2016) discuss the remarkable show and what’s up next.
On the show’s theme ...
Mason-Macklin: “First and foremost, it was about our experiences. It was a space and a show for us, to talk about us, making work for us, by us. And just to be really about the community of artists and people of color and artists of color.”
“The plot thickened” after the deaths of Henry Green and Tyre King in Columbus, following other high-profile police-involved deaths around the country. “There was this weird, surreal Groundhog Day when we were going to vigils and we were going to protests and someone was dying and then we were going to vigils and we were going to protests and someone was dying.”
On select works in the show …
Cameron Granger, Grad Party, installation view
Granger: “My piece, Grad Party, revolves around respectability politics in the black community. It’s the belief that if you dress right, act right, finish high school, finish college, you’ll be good for life, you’ll be safe. You don’t have to look as far as Mike Brown, who was murdered barely a week before starting college, to see that that’s not the case. … You can be this amazing, ’respectful’ person, you could even have a Ph.D. and you’ll still be looked at as a second-class citizen, or ’just another nigga.’”
Tyler Davis, A Lepard Can’t Change its Spots/Damn My Nigga Who Next?
Tyler Davis, A Lepard Can’t change its Spots/Damn My Nigga Who Next?, detail
Davis: A Lepard Can’t change its Spots (Damn My Nigga Who Next?), featured police uniform shirts printed with images of the faces of victims of police brutality. At the opening, four of Davis’ friends wore the shirts and mingled among fellow guests. “It’s this whole guessing game of not knowing which black man is next. You don’t know, it could be your friend, it could be your family. So I just wanted people to put them on and just walk around and enjoy themselves. … I was wearing the one that was blank, and people I knew were coming in and they were like, ’There’s five hangers up there, where’s the fifth shirt?’ and I was like ’I’m wearing it. I could be next. You don’t know.’”
On viewers’ responses …
Granger: “The response was very positive. Tyler and I are both members of (MINT) … and member-wise, the overwhelming response was ’That’s one of the best shows we’ve ever had in the space.’ And I wouldn’t say that just because I showed in it. I’ve never seen work so thoughtful, and relevant here in Columbus. I’ve never seen a show so ’real.’”
Jake Mason-Macklin, Pleasure N' Pain (The Next Level of Flight)
Mason-Macklin: “I think my realest moment was when my mom came in and she was like, ’Jake, this is sad. But I understand.’” The validation and connection he felt from his mother and others “was just what we wanted. I don’t think we wanted to be right. I don’t think we wanted to have an agenda, like, ’This is what blackness is.’ We’re not a voice for the black community, because my experience is completely different from Cam’s and completely different from Tyler’s and vice-versa. But you know, just being discursive, starting a conversation about the differences between people starts healing. Like, we gave a platform for people to be like, ’This is what makes me hurt.’ And people were like, ’I feel that, too.’”
On receiving coverage from Vice …
Granger: “For me, it was crazy … I took a couple of days to sit on it; I was really excited, I was posting everywhere, and then it was like, alright, let’s top this. What’s next? I’m always afraid to get comfortable and complacent. This is an amazing thing ... this is a milestone in my life, this is something I can check off my bucket list, but now what? I’m going to do it bigger and better now, because you have to keep making work like this, especially as a black artist navigating white spaces. I was so thankful that BOOST was able to take place in MINT, a place that is so special to me--but now we need to get this work in spaces that don’t know who we are.”
Rodolfo Diaz, Exoneration: 39 Years Imprisonment
On what’s up next ...
Davis: “For me, don’t peak. Don’t peak at 20. Instead of getting an article in the Creative Project, get an article inside Vice’s actual magazine.”
Mason-Macklin: “Putting in the work. Just … being immersed in the art world and having a voice and staking a claim for people who don’t really have a voice. I think that we have to acknowledge that we are still in a privileged position, being at an art institution, educated, and a lot of people don’t have that opportunity, and so it’s our responsibility to be a platform, be a voice. And I think continuing that is always going to be the goal, to speak for the people who can’t speak for themselves.”
Kamron Hazel, I Hear A New World