Project / Blackgold

Tagline/Mantra / Refining the crude / Evil be to he who thinks evil of

Process / Images are selected based on their association with taboo, stigmatized, violent, dangerous or crude activities typically performed by certain minority or oppressed populations. The artist primarily works from photographs and uses graphite and/or colored pencil on high quality watercolor or printmaking paper (Arches hot press 640gsm, Somerset Velvet) or oil paint on cotton or linen canvases.

Intention/Concept / The idea with this project is to shift the way we view images from activities typically seen as crude to create higher value or respect through a process of appropriation. Dominant themes are: gender and race oppression in the form of pornography, sex work, slavery, drugs, sports, African exploitation and other marginalized cultural activities.

Meaning / Without the support, resources, opportunities and options typically afforded to privileged white males, being a minority can often times be limiting and frustrating trying to get ahead. A black man living in the inner city has few options when the education system fails them. Basketball, football, rap, hip-hop dancing, are all lucrative black dominant activities, but the chances of making a professional career out them are few and far between. Many blacks often turn to dealing drugs and gang banging when their dreams of the limelight fade out. A woman who is hard on her luck may use her body and sexuality to make ends meet. Stripping, pornography and prostitution become viable yet degrading and even dangerous options.

What all the above activities have in common is that they stem from more primitive, natural, uncivilized, instinctual—in other words crude behaviours. In most cases though, all that makes these activities taboo is our attitude towards them. Certain religions may paint a picture of women engaging in prostitution as being “sinners” or “sluts” but the idea of a Japanese Geisha is not seen as Shinto taboo. Topless strippers may be degraded and ashamed by their work while topless fashion or swimsuit models receive high praise for selling sexuality. Slinging black market drugs imprisons a disproportionate number of black males, yet the pharmaceutical industry thrives in their legal version of the same market.

The Blackgold project explores how the process may occur of shifting from viewing something as crude, to viewing the exact same thing as refined. The big question is why does society favor certain behaviours while stigmatizing others? I feel that many of these hypocrisies arise from a fear of minorities disrupting the patriarchal power dynamic. For example, certain drugs like alcohol and tobacco cause just as much if not more harm than marijuana, cocaine, opium and psychedelics, yet the association of marijuana with Mexicans (all Mexicans are crazy campaign), cocaine with blacks (the black menace), opium with the Chinese (the yellow menace), and psychedelics with the countercultural hippie movement, has led to the prohibition of these substances.

The same argument could be made for why we view sex work negatively—that is, to keep women disempowered. We must pose the question, is consensual sex between two adults intrinsically bad or do the negative, hostile and dangerous working conditions of sex work originate simply from the act being perceived as negative beforehand—self-fulfilling prophecy style? What would happen if prostitution were legalized and along with pornography, both no longer stigmatized? What if prostitution were to be viewed as a legitimate career path with health insurance packages, retirement plans and respected status? Would this empower women in the same way fashion models, singers and actresses use sexual appeal to get ahead?

Women are naturally the more attractive and desired of the sexes and we ought not penalize them for using this to their advantage if they wish to do so. Blacks make up a huge population of our most popular sports yet how much of the generated wealth goes back into improving the inner city conditions from which many of these athletes come from? Following the lead of artists such as Kehinde Wiley, the Blackgold project is about turning the tables and taking the power back. It’s about having more respect and less exploitation for acts that women and minority groups engage in and excel at. It’s about certain marginalized groups creating their own definitions of class, sophistication, status and power instead of being pawns that play into the hands of the patriarchal hegemony.

Favorite Aspects / The best part of this project is the process of sourcing the images I use. I always tell people one of my favorite places to be is the strip club—not because I enjoy seeing women being objectified, but rather, as an artist, because it’s the only place on earth I can go, on a regular basis, to experience the human body nude and in motion.

I've done extensive studies of the human body—from studying individual muscles and body systems in anatomy labs, to getting a tactile feel of the varieties of human tissues working as a massage therapist, to calculating the body’s proportions and perspectives when in live nude figure model drawing sessions. In all of these studies the body is mostly static and un-animated. Watching sports allows me to experience the body in motion, but while also mostly obscured with a uniform or in the case of swimmers, their bodies become distorted once submerged underwater. Odd that a strip club is one of the only places I can study the breathtaking beauty of the human body in a bare and animated state.