DCP EP. 79 Black Art Matters: JLaw, Gianni Lee, Dawn Okoro

Transcribed by: Cameron Blackwell 

Completion date: September 2, 2021 12:00-

DCP 79 AUDIO – Black Art Matters

Shana Pinnock [00:00:03] Welcome to Dear Culture, the podcast that gives you news you can trust for the culture. I’m your host Shana Pinnock, Social Media Director at theGrio. And this week we’re asking, Dear Culture, what’s more beautiful than Black art? But, before we get into the show, if you’re wondering why you’re just hearing my voice, don’t worry, Gerren, our Gerren Keith Gaynor, our Managing Editor, will be back next week. He is off in Barcelona doing hood-rat things with his friends. And we just want to make sure that he has a safe return home. But I did want to talk about something that’s been on my mind this week. Earlier this week, the infamous Trick Daddy who I mean, me and Trick, we have a very sometimey relationship. You know, he was talking trash about, Beyonce the other day. I had issues, but whatever. But, Trick Daddy appeared on the podcast/show Drink Champs and basically was saying that he is, you know, he’s building his franchise up now and his franchise is the quote unquote eat booty gang, where essentially he is supporting women. You know, eat a booty, it’s a thing, it’s fine. Now, Trick has managed to go viral off of this. And it’s not even my concern is in or in my topic is really not even about Trick Daddy. It has been the reactions from everyone else. Y’all are so weird about sex and it needs to stop. I’m like, it’s it’s really weird, bro. Like we’re. The people I’m talking to specifically, we’re all adults grow the hell up, it’s like relax and I say this because I remember when Gabrielle Union had talked about she too and engages in a little anal lingus with Dwayne Wade. And then that sparked the whole thing about, oh, Dwayne is secretly gay and Gabrielle is nasty. And all this other stuff. First off, consenting adults. Are perfectly free and clear to do what consenting adults want to do. That’s number one. Number two, ladies, especially my black women, my sisters, y’all know I love y’all. I will defend you till the end. However, and I’ve said this before, I have an issue because so many of my Black, you know, my Black sisteren, y’all be out here quoting all of the gay slang and you’ve got your gay bestie and you’re watching Rupal Drag Race. And then a topic like this comes up in all of the homophobia just comes bubbling out of you all. Relax for the men, for my black men. I want you guys to embrace freedom. I want you guys to please learn how to enjoy sex and and all of its many, many wonders. But that’s all I have to say today. Let’s get into the show. Grio fam. Did you know that you’ve consumed art today? Whether you intended to or not, you have from the billboard you drove past on your way to work. So the piece you’ve had hanging in your living room for the last 10 years, art is something that saturates nearly every constructed space we have. And there’s a good reason for that. Art has the power to do more than stimulate provocative thoughts about our culture, but it literally makes life brighter and more enjoyable for us all. This week we’re going to get connected with real artists who are shaking up the industry and uncover what it takes to leave an impact in the art space as a Black creator and understand why #BlackArtMatters, let’s get into it. All right, we’ve got three guests tonight. We have Dawn Okoro, who is a multidisciplinary artist living in Austin, Texas, whose desire to make art was sparked from her love of fashion, illustration and design, a solo exhibition, Punk Noir, launched at the Carver Museum in Austin in twenty eighteen and toured through March of twenty twenty. In twenty twenty one, Okoro collaborated with PepsiCo with her art on the company’s life water bottles and her art has been shown at the Texas Biennial, New York University, Notre Dame University, Mukada Museum and Unit London. Next, we have Jordan Lawson, better known as JLaw, who got into the art game in 2015 after graduating from Towson University. Always a creative and innovator, JLaw decided that it was necessary to showcase his outlooks and ideology through digital art. As a full time artist entrepreneur, he explores contemporary themes in popular culture, and his art is not created to simply fulfill what seems to be marketable to a certain crowd, but rather captures the uniqueness and individuality of people, life and experiences. And finally, we have Gianni Lee, who is a multi disciplinary visual artist utilizing diverse mediums in fashion, fine art and music. Lee’s multimedia work combines materials including painting, drawing and photography against the postapocalyptic and futuristic landscape. Jeanny has two distinct styles of intricate compositions that populate the fine art world, as well as street art. His street art incorporates colorful skeletal figures, while his fine art focuses on alien-like subjects to explore the technological, political, social and racial climate in America while depicting the plight of black people. Thank you, all three of you, so much for joining. I’m really excited about this conversation, so thank you guys. All right. So I’m going to be asking a bunch of questions to you all. Everybody feel free to to answer. If you feel anything directly applies to you, they’re going to be a few questions that are specifically for some of you, I’ll let you know. But, you know, in the words of Erica Badu, y’all are artist, I know you all are sensitive about your ish. I get it. So I guess one question that I would actually pose to all three of you is, from your experience in the industry, what do you feel is like the most effective way to get more black curators into the art space? Let’s start ladies first. Let’s start with Dawn.

Dawn Okoro [00:06:11] the way to get more black curators into the art space. I mean, the first thing would be, you know, opportunities, opportunities for curators to do their thing and, you know, just to in order in order to create their vision. So I think just, you know, getting a chance to do something like that would be really the the first step. I’m not sure like I’m more on the side of just doing my work and, like, hoping a curator will help me so into the world. And so I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of great, great Black curators who have really, you know, just taken so much, you know, care and loving and how they work with me and, you know, whatever the show is. So I’m just happy that I’ve had the opportunity. So I think it just yeah, they just need to be seen more for sure.

Shana Pinnock [00:07:12] OK, what about you, Gianni?

Gianni Lee [00:07:15] Well, look at this entire thing like a community. And, you know, a community works on both sides. It works with the curator as much as it is with the artist as well. So a lot of times, like, you know, black artists in particular, we do get opportunities and we get opportunities and they come to us from various curators. And it’s really up to us, you know, yes and no yay or nay, we’re actually going to do that. So that being said, in the ecosystem, there are a lot of like black curators and like, Dawn said, like one: they need the opportunity. Two: we also need to give them the opportunity to work with us, because that’s kind of like how it works. We’re creating an ecosystem. We’re creating the language. We’re creating that world for people to kind of like get into. So it’s like it’s up to the artist to actually give those Black curators a chance. And they were building their story. And that’s what people come to see. So as much as it is up to the curators at the same time, it’s really up to the artist because, you know, it’s our art. We make the you know, we make the executive decision. So it’s like when we get those opportunities I had those conversations with, you know, Black curators. We had, you know, hear them out. You know what I’m saying? We have to talk to them. We have to give them the opportunity to bless us and, like, expose our work to their demographic, etc., etc.. So that’s why I think, like, what I think the best way to do it is.

Shana Pinnock: JLaw?

Jordan Lawson [00:08:32] I think overall it’s just having the knowledge and the background. If you really think about if you just ask the question, how do you become a Black curator in the space, I don’t think anybody can give you one set answer. So I’m even with myself, aside from being a visual artist myself and also own a collective, and we host various art shows. And when I got into the game, it pretty much was just me doing the on a whim, not really knowing much knowledge, I had no mentor, but it showed how many people I could affect coming artists that could affect by giving them the opportunity to showcase their work. So when you meet more people, when you know, it’s kind of like I think of it like an underground type industry, because there’s not many things on the main street that people know about. So I think if you can just spread more knowledge and people know the background of what goes into it and how you can affect different people, you’ll definitely get way more people into the space. But I think just putting it on Front Street much more and more really will make a difference.

Shana Pinnock [00:09:31] OK, so what would you guys say? Like right now are the biggest gaps that need to be filled in the art space when it comes to Black creators like yourselves. We’re going to go in reverse, JLaw. Oh, wait, no. You know what, Gianni? You had an answer. No, go ahead.

Gianni Lee [00:09:48] Well, I think that there aren’t that many opportunities for, you know, a lot of different reasons, socio political, economic, geographical there a lot of reasons that you Black bodies out of the space of, you know, just being able to obtain an MFA. And for those that don’t know, MFA is a Masters of Fine Art. And, you know, that’s a lot for a lot of people, a lot of artists. That is like the entry way into like the art world. And, you know, sometimes it’s like night and day. You know, you you’re on your couch. And before, you know, you’re showing that one of the biggest galleries because a benefactor or a beneficiary saw something from a school that that they attended and they saw your work and now you’re on the main stage. But, you know, that happens a lot of times. And, you know, the in the space that, you know, having an MFA isn’t the only entryway into art. There are a lot of different ways. A lot of people that don’t have an MFA like for example, like I don’t have I don’t have an MFA. So I think, you know, in order for us to close the gap, we need to understand that creativity and talent comes from more than just one way. And I guess just the I guess the scholastic approach isn’t the only way to actually, like, you know, find new talent in the art space. And we had to close that gap by giving other people opportunities that might not had the opportunity to go and get that accredited degree, because, you know, that stuff costs money. A lot of people just economically can’t afford that at the time. But that is a take away from their talent. So I think that that’s like very important for us to, like, really, you know, get a strong hold on. And once again, it goes back to your original question of like the artists giving the curators the opportunity and vise versa. So, OK,

Shana Pinnock [00:11:29] what about you, Dawn?

Dawn Okoro [00:11:30] I agree with the whole, you know, with Gianni on the the whole thing, with the the MFA, because my background is like a bit different. I studied in school. I studied things other than art, basically, you know, my family my parents went to college and then they expected me to go to college to become like a doctor or a lawyer or something like I was good at art when I was young. And but I mean, they didn’t see and I didn’t see. I didn’t see, you know, what it meant to be an artist. And so I felt like, you know. It was it was up to me to, like, really make something, you know, make something of myself to make my family family proud and this and this and that. And I didn’t have the I didn’t have the knowledge or tools on how to do that, you know, with art, you know, at a younger age. So I do other things in college. And then when I finally decided, OK, I have to do art, then by that time I was already like, you know, so up to here and loan student loans to where, you know, if I wanted to get an MFA, it’s like, well, you’re maxed out on that. And so for a while, I felt like, you know, kind of like a complex where it’s like, oh, God, like no one’s going to take me seriously because I don’t have this and that. And then it really took like a mentor, a mentor like this, someone with someone that was already a working working and I guess, you know, a successful artist to really show me, like, OK, I can do that. So I feel I think other artists mentoring other artists know helpful would be helpful to like just to be to be that person that, you know, that you may have needed, you know, when you were younger.

Jordan Lawson [00:13:08] And just, you know, to add on to what everyone was saying, I think a lot of time you stuck in these institutions and the way that things have been going for a classical way for so long, it’s kind of those type things where we have to create our own lane. So that’s the beauty of social media. And just today’s times, because you’ve seen a lot of artists take their own approach where they’re representing themselves and they’re having their own opportunities. And from there they build from that. And, you know, they bring other artists under their wing. And it’s kind of like we’re creating our own method. And I think that goes a long way in, you know, us doing it for, you know, for us, by us, you know what I mean? That type stance that we take. And I think if we keep shaken up the mantra and, you know, supporting us, getting into, you know, that space, not the traditional way then, you know, people will see it and will change accordingly.

Shana Pinnock [00:13:59] OK, so. Well, I guess it’s kind of a two part question. So the first part is, do you guys would all of you identify yourselves as like self-taught artists or like did you study it at any point?

Gianni Lee [00:14:11] Yeah.

Jordan Lawson [00:14:11] So I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Digital Art Design. So I did go to school for–

Shana Pinnock: Gianni?

Gianni Lee [00:14:16] No, I went to School for Communications. Bummer. But, you know, so most of my life training was in high school, middle school or elementary school. And I like took a lot of life because of my mother, I took a lot of college geared courses in art like she always had me, like throughout that time period. But yeah, nothing, you know, collegiate or anything like that. So pretty much self-taught.

Dawn Okoro [00:14:46] So yeah, I went so when I initially went to college from my undergrad is like what major hould I pick. Well I, I mean I really want to do art or something creative but I get picked art. My mama would have been like, “what?” And so I was like OK, well I’ll just pick psychology, which really is like if you don’t plan to go and become a psychologist, like psychology is like one of those degrees where it’s like, you know what, you know, you could do do different things in it, but nothing and nothing specific to do with psychology. So psychology and then also when I was an undergrad, my way to get around not being able to major in art was to take a bunch of classes in fashion design, which is something I’m very interested in. And so I took a bunch of fashion design classes and and then after my undergrad ended up going to law school and then getting a law of degree and then, yeah, like when I was in law school, like, you have to do what you do, like an internship during the summer. And when I was doing an internship, you know, here in Austin, Texas, like when the like the partners of the law firm found out that I’m an artist and they’re like, oh, I love your stuff, I could you do some portraits of, like, our kids. So I was making, like, you know, the extra money, like doing portraits, you know, like, well, I mean, you know, while I’m in my legal internship. But as far as self-taught, like I mean, I guess you could consider me that in the sense of like, I don’t have a degree in art, but but my learning has really come from mentorship, mentorship and just reading and whatever resources that I can get access to is, you know, how I learned to do it. Trial and error.

Shana Pinnock [00:16:26] Well, listen, Dawn, shout out to you cause I’m a law school drop out, so, girls, the fact that–

Dawn Okoro [00:16:32] Smart, good for you!

Shana Pinnock [00:16:36] So I guess the second part of that question then would be, you know, for people who maybe have an artistic side that might be being, you know, a little bit stifled, a little bit, whether my parents are you’re just like, I don’t want to be a starving artist or anything like that. And Dawn, you touch a little bit on this. Like, what are what would be your advice to, like, help shatter that myth that, you know, the art world is inaccessible to them? You know, Dawn, you kind of touched on, like, the mentorship aspect. What are some other avenues that you guys would think? Yeah, maybe this is something to explore. Let’s go with JLaw first.

Jordan Lawson [00:17:11] I think, honestly, you know, the world that we live in now, you can create your own lane. What people you know, what you want people to see with your artwork, you social media. I always say that’s one of the main ways to enter the art world. If you’re doing it solo without a degree or you don’t have mentorship because you just have access to so many people for free. You know what I mean? I can I just can only imagine how I would reach as many people if they was nineteen ninety five and I was, you know, a full time artist and as an entrepreneur it would just be totally different. But the feedback you can get from people, the people that you can talk to, the people that you can reach, literally just consistency. I always preached that when I always talk to people that are thinking about going into, you know, being an artist and things like that, you have to stay consistent because if you want to gain an audience, they they have to keep seeing you grow and see the journey and things like that. So I definitely say social media is number one, if you ask me.

Gianni Lee [00:18:08] I agree in terms of like we like social media definitely has helped me a lot because it just helped me kind of like drive what I wanted to my audience, like, you know, if this was anything I thought I was capable of or wasn’t capable of, I could use that platform to kind of like be a storyteller and like tell my story. So I would say, like, social media is definitely important, but it’s just so many other avenues outside of just, you know, what we learned or what we were taught growing up. And, you know, it’s all about just like exploration and just like taking a risk, but also just knowing that a lot of times, like you’re not going to be able to have that textbook day to day, like you want, like everybody wants a lot of sleep, a lot of rest. And, you know, and once again, like, that’s healthy. We need it. We need it for our mental health. But, you know, there will be days where you got to just kind of like work, you know, a little bit harder like you might at the pull, you know, a full time job during the day. And you might have to find a few hours, you know, at night or in between to kind of like work where your passion projects. But you can’t lose sight of your passion projects because one day your passion project can be the thing that could pay your rent. They could pay your bills. I could just give you like a more of a leisure lifestyle that we all kind of want. But, you know, I just don’t I just want people to like, you know, just be realistic. And, you know, don’t be out here, you know, if you want if you did the starving artist thing, I have five dollars in my pocket and had to put it together to eat ramen noodles because I just knew that I was going to do something. And it was, you know, I just want to take time for people to catch on. And I need people, you know, especially black people. We need to have this self-assurance in ourselves that, you know, it can get there, you know what I’m saying? But also, at the same time, let’s just be realistic. Like, you know, you don’t have to be out there just being a broke if you don’t have to if you have to take a job with you, you know, you can get creative to figure out how to put money in your pocket. But also just one thing we have to do. We have to live within our means, like, you know, just like don’t go out there and just try to keep up with everybody about stuff that you don’t need to buy. You know, a big thing right now is travel. And that’s very important also. But, you know, if you don’t really have it, I don’t max out your credit cards, going to travel to make something look like something that is not. You know what I mean? Because you could be as entertaining on social. People could think you’re as cool if you work on your own stuff. Because I’ll tell you right now, when I first started, you know, painting, people thought what I was doing was so cool and they were really keyed in. And I’m like them. I’m just like scraping it together, going to the art store, getting what I need. And I’m making this like this. And, you know, there’s people I hate. I feel like they have to spend money to get that same like, you know, feedback or engagement with the audiences. And I know a lot of times people just want to see real stories, real people that they can connect to. So I’m just saying, like from a financial standpoint, it’s best to just be like, you know, super realistic with what you what your capacity is. And like, you know, don’t be afraid to take that job. Don’t be afraid to just to do something that can get you bad, because that might be the difference between you actually taking your goals and what you really want to do to the next level. So that’s really important.

Shana Pinnock [00:21:21] Insightful. All right, Dawn.

Dawn Okoro [00:21:24] Yeah, I would definitely I would just reiterate, you know, that. That artists should definitely, yeah, take it, take advantage of social media to be able to imagine what they want the ir own world and career to to look like. And yeah, and also one thing that’s important is like, yeah, just being– the being– the thought of being quote unquote, like full time artists with no other job like that is that’s not the be all end all or whatever. Because, you know, for me starting out when I was like, OK, I know I want to be an artist, like to me that’s I felt like, well, if I’m not, you know, making a living off of it, then I’m not, you know, maybe I’m not really doing anything or. Yeah, I had a lot of misconceptions about what an artist could look like or what it could be. And and there really is no no one size fits all is just different for everybody. And you just have to do you know what what works for you. Like I done, like the starving artist thing I like. OK, no– I need you know, I need to always have a job. And so and then there was a time that I just kind of quit and just gave up on art in general. And and then I just had to make, you know, just accept, OK, like, you know. Yeah. Like I have to set aside this time for art. And then a lot of energy goes into my day job and. Yeah, so just this just kind of accepting, like your situation may not be like someone else’s opinion is very important.

Gianni Lee [00:22:52] Can I touch on something that Dawn said, Dawn? You were talking about, I guess, back in school, you kind of like didn’t know what you wanted to major in. So you said you were just trying to, like, figure it out because you didn’t want to, like, let your parents down or let yourself down at the same time. And I think that’s another thing that we, you know, need to reiterate is like especially with like college is like, you know, you’re going to take that route because you want to go to school, you know, like for me, like I went for communications because I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I was scared, honestly, to kind of like, go and get in, like, take a get my bachelor’s and ask because I didn’t want to be a starving artist. And I think and I thought that it couldn’t help me. And the thing was, I maybe, you know, it could have helped me in certain ways, you know what I’m saying? But I just you know, once again, I didn’t have that like that insight. I’m like, well, let me go get a bachelor’s in communications because, you know, at least at the minimum, I want to work on TV and I want to work with cameras in some way. So at least I know if I graduate, I’ll be able to do that. But I’m not taking away from my journey. But who knows what would have been a difference if I would have just went to school for art because I ended up doing art anyway. But I didn’t have that courage at the time, because in my mind and the way I was taught in my neighborhood, I would you get art degree, like all the art, you’ll be broke, you know what I’m saying? So it’s like we got to get that conception out of our head, because in order to be like, you know, one of the best artists of your time or like whatever you had to do, you really had to, like, drown yourself in, like, dedicate yourself to art. So it’s like very important.

Jordan Lawson [00:24:21] Yeah. And also to touch on. What Dawn was saying is kind of one of those things where you you ask yourself what what does an artist look like? I feel like there’s no correct answer. So whether you take the chance and you do the starving artist thing or you work a job site, like I work as a designer, graphic designer for the government for nine years before I took the leap to be a full time artist. Those type things where I remember those days when I come home and I go, it’s kind of like having two jobs. You have your side hustle, which you’re doing an artist and you have your full time thing. And then it’s like, OK, it makes sense for me to make the jump to be a full time artist. But that’s not always the best route for people either. And I think that’s the major like the best characteristic about art and being art. There’s no correct answer with anything with this. So, you know, you can get those those skewed perceptions from social media where people will look like they’re living a life as an artist. You don’t know what the true picture is. So you have to take everything with a grain of salt, do your own research, and at the end of the day, always, always be real with yourself. Always be with yourself.

Shana Pinnock [00:25:27] And I think, you know, all of all three of you something that you guys have just said. And I think it’s so it’s amazing. And I give kudos to the three of you for taking that courage and going out and doing those things. Like I come from a Caribbean household when I have a major from Spelman College in English. Right. I have a degree in English. I don’t do men with that. I’m a social media director, you know. I mean and it’s one of those things I think, like especially in Black households, we have got to get used to the idea of, like, freedom in in that sense. Right. Like, nah, you don’t you don’t have to be a doctor or a lawyer or, you know, a judge or, you know, all this stuff like do at the end of the day, do what makes you happy, mainly because one way or another, your passion is going to come out like you have to figure it out, but it’s going to it’s going to make its way into your everyday life. So I want to shift the conversation just a little bit that we have to we have to touch on negativity just a little bit. What have been, if you’ve had any what have been your negative experiences that I would say are like inhibiting your ability to permeate like white art spaces? Like have you guys had any types of situations like that?

Gianni Lee [00:26:49] Yes, I’ve had a few. One issue at the end of the day it’s a cultural and language barrier. So a lot of times is like for me recently, I’ll give you two examples. Like one, like I’ve recently like moved, been like this, the NFT space. And there’s this, like, language that, you know, a lot of people in the NFT space use and it’s like a trolling language. An NFT is a I don’t– how to explain it. It is basically digital art that you can also sell for commerce. But you have to you can only sell in exchange using tokens which are similar to like Bitcoin. But this version of this coin is Etherium and Etherium is the main currency used to exchange, sell in a marketplace like entity. So NFTs could be anything. It could be a visual piece. It could be a moving piece. It could be audio, but it’s really taken storm right now. But a lot of people that are at the head of it are, you know, just it’s just a tech community. So it’s a lot of nerds, a lot of folks from the bay. And it’s a very, very white space, too, because once again, you know, in in tech as well as art, those opportunities people have to learn that stuff are usually in better schools, better, better neighborhoods. I wouldn’t say better but, they have more money. They have more resources so they can breed these types of people who end up, you know, making these platforms. So being a black person in that space already just, you know, everything against you, because I don’t even speak the same language as you, because I’m not from the same area. So a lot of just the interactions I can’t even I don’t understand because I’m just that’s not what I am, which is not a bad thing. It’s not necessarily a good thing either. But, you know, when you’re in any space, you want to be able to communicate with people so that being in a in the fine art space, which is like, you know, predominantly grandpa white people it’s the same thing. It’s always like a language thing. So it’s like it’s not necessarily like, oh, they say a big word and I don’t understand them. Like, no, it’s not even just the language in general. Sometimes the jokes or, you know, what people may think should be the topic of conversation. You just might not understand because you’re not from where they from even had that conversation. So a lot of times they can keep you out of certain rooms because, you know, you don’t have anything to really connect with them on, you know what I’m saying. And also, there’s just a lot of, like gatekeeping in the art space. People think they expect certain things from you and me because of the way I carry myself from where I’m from, like me, I’m a Black man, I’m from the hood, I’m from a certain part of Philadelphia, and we carry ourselves a certain way. And that has not changed as I move into adulthood, like I dress a certain way, you know what I mean? Like I might wear Timberlands. I just look a certain way. I might look similar to what those guys see in rap videos. But I’m a visual artist. People have this perception of what they think a visual artist should look like. Even a Black visual artist, they see the same thing. So sometimes I’ll see certain intimidations in certain spaces because people think, oh, oh, he has a fitted hat on and some sneaks in, some baggy jeans or you know what I’m saying? He got all these chains and a grill in his mouth that they’re expecting a certain level of discourse from me not knowing that I could probably talk circles around them about any artist, you know what I’m saying? But because of my parents, things are expected of me. So that kind of came to a head because of how I promote myself or how I show myself on a social media outlet. I don’t only hide behind my art. I like to get fits off. I like to do regular things like anybody else. Because of that, I’ll be in a certain space, I was in a certain space, for example. And I had a casting for something. And for some reason I just felt like there was a lot of eyes and ears on me in space at that time. And this I was in his art studio and for some reason it was just like complaints about it being too many people there, things like that. And I’m just like, isn’t this what these spaces for, to be used? You know what I’m saying? So it’s just like, you know, I didn’t want to say anything like, you know, me. I would be like, man, they hating because I’m doing something. But a lot of times like that mindset, that might be what it is like people are used to. You know, I’m a new face. I’m Black. I came into the studio that was already ran predominately by white people. My first week in I got people coming in and out. They don’t know why, but they wanted to make it a problem or an issue. But honestly, these were models coming to be casted. It was publications come in and talk to me about my art and had like amazing conversations. They’re looking at it like, oh, I’m about to throw an event, throw a party or just have a bunch of people over. And I know it’s because of the way I look. They think I’m just trying have it lit there, you know what I’m saying, quote unquote. But that wasn’t even what was going on. So these are some of the hardships I found in the art world. And like, you know, I always wanted, like pull the race card, but you know what I’m saying? Like, I kind of like know what it is. And I just kind of like pick and choose when I actually want to address those things or let it be known, because it is like, do you did you have this same inquiry with of the tenets you know what I mean? Like, I’m just having people come in and out of here like anyone else, but because they’re black, it’s an issue, you know. So these are just these are things that I’ve noticed. You know,

Shana Pinnock [00:32:09] You were Blackin’ up the space.

Gianni Lee [00:32:11] Yeah. Blackin’ it up you know, just Blackin’ the whole– that’s what it was. I mean, I’m in there just Blackin’ it up they smell incense coming out of there. They’re wondering if I’m smoking, what’s going on. Yeah, man is real, is really real. And it’s sometimes they want you to conform or look a certain way. Now if I was in there just real quiet, not saying nothing, being quiet being an obscure Black artist if I gave them that vibe they probably would have been, you know, welcomed with open arms. But, you know, it was definitely a difference that I noticed that.

Jordan Lawson [00:32:44] Yeah. I think honestly, just being a black man, I just want you know, you get go into the space and that’s already I don’t call it a strike, but they see it as a strike against me and things like that. So even beyond that, I feel like they always go back to the formal education aspect of it. They they don’t feel I feel like they don’t feel like take my art as serious or has the classical disciplines that will fit into, you know, getting into a gallery of their nature just because I don’t have a master of fine arts or I don’t have the experience and things like that. But art is so subjective and you can’t tell me that my art is in a certain stature based on something compared to somebody else just because of my education. And I think they’ll always try to use that as a as a, you know, strike against you because. They will find any reason, any type of reason, so always keep them in the back of my mind and I mean, I’ll be honest to this day, I’m still not comfortable. I’ll always be in that type of space that, you know, I’ve been in galleries that were white owned galleries and things of that nature, but it’s still not a comfort zone. And I feel like it’s something that I’ll fight through probably my whole life, to be honest with you.

Dawn Okoro [00:34:00] I’ve had experiences where, you know, sir, that there may be like a white curator is looking at some of my work and my work is portraits of people, you know, black people, you know, their bodies or or, you know, taking up space on this canvas. And it’s having sometimes it’s having certain curators look at it, you know, like, you know, certain white curators will look at it. And it just weird for them to like to look at it and just, I don’t know, just might not get it, I guess, or not be not being able to see beyond like beyond the surface, at least a little bit into. And then after a while ago, I spoke to spoken to other Black artists that have had the same experience. And like they just kind of have to realize, like, you know, the work was not for certain people that they don’t get it or can’t see past past a certain thing. It also feels weird being a situation where there is a white institution in there. They are working with a group of artists for something. And like for some reason, like, it’s weird when. It’s, you know, like is this one Black artists in the room or, you know, one black artist taking part in this, like this is like it can’t be more than one at a time or, you know, it just just feels weird and like, are they trying to just fulfill, like, some kind of diversity slot or, you know, what is this or what am I doing here? Or, you know, just I guess and there’s like a little bit of a level of like, you know, distrust a little bit, you know, just the edge is always just kind of watching your back, you know, what is going on here. So, yeah, that’s how I feel.

Gianni Lee [00:35:39] Does the piggyback off of what Dawn said and this is like very interesting, like so you had that curated. It was very just, you know, questioning your work in a so interested that, you know, her work had to be questioned in that way. And then you’ll turn around in that same said gallery curator will actually, you know, celebrate a white artist that could be doing something similar to Dawn. You know what I’m saying? In the same way, the same execution or similar execution. But she gets no question she gets the praise while you’re questioning what you’re doing. And it’s just kind of interesting. Or like at the same time, you see someone question her work and then you’ll see a gallery value of banana taped to a wall at half a million dollars, you know what I’m saying? So it’s just like once again, it goes back to your original question, like you said, was this about, you know, us creating our own communities at the same time. But it’s just something that, like that’s crazy.

Shana Pinnock [00:36:35] Dawn was being diplomatic, but essentially I white folk listeners, please check your microaggression because they’re everywhere. But so I have one last question for you guys, we are running out of time. Unfortunately, I wish I could keep talking to you guys, but, you know, I’ve I’ve gone and looked at some of your work. Know, Gianni, you over here, you are far more abstract than– I was like, oh, OK. This is what we do it all right. I love this. You know, Dawn, you are showcasing it, like you said, Black bodies, particularly Black women. And you know those Black bodies in motion. I think that was amazing and beautiful. JLaw I’m getting that Martin and Gina print from you. I’m getting it. So with all that, I would ask in just like in thirty seconds or less, can you guys tell me what are you hoping to inspire with your art from your audience?

Dawn Okoro [00:37:31] I so you know, I mentioned before that I’m from a small a small Texas city. It’s very. Very dry, very, very conservative, you know, I moved from moved from there as soon as I could, but for me, like, I am just one of those people that just always felt like just kind of like this out of place in a in a lot of spaces. I just felt like just different. And it’s not even, um, I don’t know, like this is, I mean, different and just in a weird way. And so, you know, like I always felt. And I always felt like I had I wish I had someone like me to to look up to or inspire me. So I hope that I can create a space for people that that feel like they don’t have a place

Jordan Lawson [00:38:23] Mine is just honestly to evoke the emotion. Life can be so mundane, art can really lift people up on the everyday routine. And I just want to provide that spark to the audience that looks at my artwork, spark that conversation, kind of get a little jolt in their energy when they see it. And that’s the main thing that I want to get, is evoke those emotions and those experiences that I go through as an artist and how other people can relate to them as well, because it’s it always sucks to be the person. You look left and you look right in like I’m the only one in the situation when I’m the only one I can relate to this. But you can see my artwork. You say, dang, I really do relate to this. Or, you know, I’m not the only one in the boat. So that’s one of my main things for people to evoke the emotion and to let them know they’re just not not alone in what they go through in this world. And I just try to portray that through my artwork.

Gianni Lee [00:39:13] And then for me, I think it’s interesting because I mean, so many Black people that are like gifted artists and they just haven’t uncovered a yet. And a lot of them are like, you know what I mean? They decided to be lawyers, whoever the hell else. But they found that their happiness was they just create. And it is all we just had to be painting something. Just the idea of creating your own and bringing it to fruition, I think is like very therapeutic. And, you know, if I could just push that that kid from the hood, push he or she or they, to just be able to just, you know, key in on what they want to do and just like bring that to the forefront. I think that I like I did my job, but I really wanted to, like, inspire Black kids. To, like, make it out with art like I didn’t and make it like I made it out the other night and make it out with a D1 scholarship. I didn’t make it out with a mix tape. Like I made it out with a pencil and paper. And I think that, you know, anybody could do it.

Shana Pinnock [00:40:17] Well, this has been such a great conversation for our Grio fam. You know, of course, at these parties for some of their work, it’s– their websites are OK. But, you know, just as a reminder for I Grio fan to please, you know, consume Black our love Black our create Black art because Black art matters. We want to remind our listeners to support your local Black businesses and donate to your local organizations and religious institutions, the business that we will highlight this week is the Black art depot. We want to remind our listeners to support your local Black businesses and donate to your local organizations and religious institutions. The business that we will highlight this week is: The Black Art Depot. The Black Art Depot is aimed to be the top supplier of African-American art, gifts and collectibles worldwide. When you shop with The Black Art Depot you are purchasing art from a company that not only sells art, but also understands art and the many ways it can be used to improve our lives. For more information, visit their website at www.blackartdepot.com. That’s B L A C K A R T D E P O T .com.

Thank you for listening to Dear Culture. If you liked what you heard, please give us a five star review and subscribe to the show wherever you listen to your podcast and share it with everyone you know. And of course, please email all questions, suggestions and compliments. We love those to podcast@theGrio.com, the Dear Culture Podcast is brought to you by theGrio, an executive produced by Blue Telusma and co-produced by Taji Senior Cameron Blackwell and Abdul Quddus.

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