After researching African religions and the transatlantic slave trade in graduate school, artist Justin Bryant became interested in the use of coded language, and how controlling access to verbal and visual information has been used as a survival strategy among oppressed people. His most recent work was made in response to Mask, a powerful poem by late writer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou. In the poem, Angelou describes one of the ways black people have been forced to conceal their true emotions in order to stay alive: by using laughter and smiling as a protective mask. Bryant’s drawings and paintings show the bottom half of black faces, images pulled from documentary and commercial photographs of famous individuals and civil rights leaders. Each mouth and chin is carefully rendered, while the eyes and other features are left blank, safe from the white gaze.
Justin Bryant grew up in Stuttgart, Arkansas. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and in 2018 will earn a Master of Fine Arts degree from Louisiana State University.
The exhibit continues in the Second Floor Gallery through October 7, 2018.