August 5, 2015
Two graphic designers/artists and one poet, a theatre visionary and a modern-day Renaissance man have come together to “show love and appreciation with a fist in the air.” That last line was borrowed from popular NC hip hop group Little Brother’s Intergalactic Soul which is also the name of the art exhibit now showing at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture starring the work of Marcus Kiser and Jason Woodberry.
If you missed Quentin Talley’s electrifying performance during the Sounds of Summer with Gantt After Dark event on July 23, you should definitely check out his #FreedomDay: A Musical Reparations Mixtape. Blending the anger, sadness and frustration of endless grieving in the face of police brutality and a rallying call for change through protest and music that invites action, Talley takes the listener on a journey through the black experience.
Along with Intergalactic Soul, AfriCOBRA Now: An Aesthetic Reflection and Charlotte Collects Elizabeth Catlett: A Centennial Celebration are also being featured. The three exhibits are part of the Arts as Activism theme, which brings into focus the visual arts’ legacy as a tool for activism and social change. The Gantt Center was founded in 1974, although back then it was called the Afro-American Center. Its mission is to present, preserve and celebrate the art, history and culture of African-Americans and people of the African Diaspora through dance, music, visual and literary arts, film, educational programs, theatre productions and community outreach.
Recently, CLTure sat down with Kiser and Woodberry to find out more about the roots of Intergalactic Soul.
CLTure: What were the conversations you had that made you want to create this project?
Jason Woodberry: It’s hard to say if there was a particular conversation…I would say it was a collection of conversations. It shocked me to realize a lot of people don’t know what racism is…You hear that phrase “I like black people” or “I don’t see color”…both have nothing to do with racism. We even saw that some of our black friends were shutting down completely…removing themselves from the conversations out of frustration and exhaustion. No one has that luxury if true peace is the aim.
Marcus Kiser: Topics from what was happening around the world, to discussions that we saw on Facebook. A few of my pieces were based off discussions/arguments that I’d gotten into with people, where I’d just come home, do my research and draw it out. It was just this world that we were living in as African-American professional males. This artwork comes from a true place, true situations of some of the ignorance that was thrown towards us in the past two years. So it was important that we got this out.
CLTure: Why did you decide to wrap your message in a sci-fi theme?
Woodberry: The sci-fi theme is me and Marcus. Some may argue, but the ‘80s had the sickest sci-fi cartoons ever. You throw Star Wars in the mix and you have about 80% of our pop culture influences growing up. We grew up drawing Stormtroopers, Gundams, Centurions, etc…we didn’t feel like we had to totally abandon that style to get the message across. The challenge was creating the work while maintaining the severity of the message/undertones.
Kiser: We were just huge fans of sci-fi and nerd stuff and felt like this could help soften the blow for people to understand these messages we were trying to convey. Speaking in metaphors for things seems to help people understand a lot better than real life situations can.
CLTure: For me, art acts like a mirror, reflecting back things about the person looking at it. With that in mind, do you think it can affect real social change, especially in a society that’s not always so conscious of its ills?
Woodberry: No, but it’s a good starting point. The conversation from the art is what will create the change. Just this past weekend I’ve seen a diverse crowd of people in the museum asking about the exhibit and enjoying the work…mission accomplished as far as I’m concerned. The fact white, Hispanic, etc came into an African American museum brought a huge smile to my face. We’re in hopes for the show to travel but Charlotte is home, and charity starts at home. Art imitates life.
Kiser: I feel like that’s the reason I’m really into visual communication. I really would like my art to convey a positive hardcore message that makes us think and create change for the better. That’s what drives me. I think at some point everyone will begin to become conscious of life’s ills; so when I create, I’m not just creating for the “now”, my hope is to make something timeless, and perhaps if the viewer doesn’t get it now, maybe they’ll get it years from now or decades or centuries, but as long as people get it, at some point, then our job is done.
CLTure: How can art be effectively used as activism?
Woodberry: Art imitates life. A movement starts with one idea. You just have to be willing to speak, and speak with conviction. People know when you speak sincerely and if you really believe what you’re saying. No one that behaves makes history. You have to be ready to challenge the “norm” and accept whatever consequences/backlash that may come. Malcom, Martin, Nina, Hannibal Barca…they all moved with a purpose; same goes for art. Create with a purpose. Nothing says because you are addressing something that it can’t have visual appeal. An iPhone has function, but it’s a beautiful piece of equipment. Same difference.
CLTure: And with everything happening around us in this country, how do you keep your imagination going? What are the things you look toward for inspiration?
Woodberry: It helps to have a 6-year-old son, lol. It keeps your mind youthful. During the day I’m a front-end developer and UI (user interface) designer, but when I come home I may be Knuckles from Sonic the Hedgehog or a Ninja Turtle.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to have friends that are extremely creative. Wolly does comics, Ryan does photography (also taught us how to build our own frames), Q does theatre (the musical portion of Intergalactic Soul), John Love is a phenomenal writer…the beautiful thing is we are all friends so there is this genuine sincerity whenever we’re working together. When your circle has talent to this degree, you have no choice but to be on top of your craft…it’ll be obvious if you weren’t lol.
Kiser: Its not hard for me to keep my imagination going, I’ve just always had a way of conveying messages and using metaphors to explain things to people that didn’t get where I was coming from. I think that’s a weird talent that I have. My inspiration comes from life. Being selfless, realizing my talents, knowing I’m a part of something much larger than myself, and knowing that everyone isn’t getting that fair equal shot at their own happiness will continue to keep me inspired to do my art, to tell these visual stories. Until we are all free of that oppression (whatever it is we battle that’s keeps us unhappy) that’ll be the day I can stop and start painting landscapes.
CLTure: What do you think of Charlotte’s art scene?
Woodberry: I love the potential in it. It’s young, so it has room to grow in every medium, but it’s very immature so there’re a lot of artists being taken advantage of and naïve to it.
There’s a group here that’s said to be taking the “initiative” on “culture” and they’re renting venues, charging the audience at the door, but the artists don’t get a penny for participating. They’re actually charging the artists to be in it. You ever pay to have a job? Lol. Exactly. It’ll change over time but these are just the growing pains. People are downplaying their abilities out of a lack of confidence and understanding. I learned early on the tricks of the devil; he preys on those who lack knowledge of self and self-worth.
CLTure: Do you think Charlotte has progressed much over the last 10 years from a socioeconomic POV?
Woodberry: Depends who you ask. It’s hard to say…Charlotte is a melting pot, so you have an interaction of different races, cultures, ideas, etc. At the same time, you can’t ignore all the black neighborhoods being gentrified for this light rail. Another example is right at the intersection of Tryon and Remount. One side you have high-rise condos with free dog grooming, across the street are the projects with people living with boarded windows and in-windows A/C. Has anyone ever asked “is the skillset and contribution from those across the street that much greater?”
CLTure: What’s next for you guys?
Woodberry: To the moon.
Kiser: The Intergalactic Soul tour & possible graphic novel/artbook, and we have two new show ideas we’re wrapping up now to propose for next year; hopefully while this show is touring.
Fo more info on Intergalactic Soul.
Read next article: