Carolina Complexions: Celebrating Black artists and creatives in North Carolina

By Courtney Napier

February 25, 2021

This month, CLTure introduces a new series, Carolina Complexions. My name is Courtney Napier, journalist, founder of Black Oak Society, a collective for Black creatives in the greater Raleigh area that fosters mutual development as artists, entrepreneurs, and change agents. Together with CLTure, we’ll highlight some of the most exciting emerging and established Black artists in North Carolina. From Ernie Barnes to Minnie Evans, John Coltrane to Nina Simone, the Carolinas have always been a vessel from which some of the world’s most beloved Black artists have sprung. Here, we will not wait for the world to take notice of the greatness North Carolina has to offer in the arts. 

 

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Jaki Shelton Green, North Carolina’s ninth and current poet laureate, is a natural choice to start off Carolina Complexions. Born and raised in rural North Carolina, the lover and writer of poetry since childhood would eventually publish eight books, and earn a slew of prestigious awards including the 2003 North Carolina Award for Literature and the 2007 Samuel Talmadge Ragan Award, and North Carolina Piedmont Laureate in 2009.  

Green’s poetry often sheds an unflinching light on the trials of being Black in America, something she was able to see up close during her years as a Community Economic Development Consultant and a Public Benefits Paralegal (she helped needy families secure Medicaid benefits after initially facing rejection). Her latest work and her first poetry album released last year on Juneteenth, The Rivers Speak of Thirst, is a sonic journey through the peaks and valleys Black people experience in a lifetime. In “O, My Brother,” Green takes aim at police brutality against Black people, especially children, by repeatedly using the visceral imagery of the “bullet” on Black bodies. Along with poetry, Green is an accomplished editor, playwright, and the professor of  Documentary Poetry at the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies. Her 40 years of teaching includes workshops for young poets and involvement in local contests, like the Carolina Prize Writing Contest. Her generosity, along with her talent as poet laureate and her wisdom as an instructor and literary judge, is a legacy that will enrich North Carolina and the world for generations to come.

 

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Quentin “Q” Talley is an institution in North Carolina’s performing arts community. The accomplished actor, poet, director, and producer was born in Greenwood, South Carolina, and moved to Charlotte after graduating from Winthrop University, having earned his bachelor’s degree in Theatre Performance. In 2006, he started On Q Performing Arts– now OnQ Productions— a non-profit professional theater whose mission is to “produce classic, contemporary, and original performance works that reflect the Black experience.” Talley is also an impressive vocalist and performs a mixture of music and spoken word poetry with his band, The Soul Providers. His latest single,Humans Only,” is a vibey slow jam that dispels the super-human stereotypes that endanger Black people everyday. Talley recently stepped into the role of Program Director for the Hayti Heritage Center, a Durham-based Black arts and culture institution and the home of the upcoming Hayti Heritage Film Festival, which begins its 27th celebration on March 1.

 

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Jade Wilson is a Durham-based photographer and filmmaker who blurs the lines between beauty and heartbreak. Their raw, dark style draws the viewer in to look for what’s behind the shadows. Wilson’s fearlessness in the face of chaotic and dangerous environments allows them to capture moments that many may miss. From frontlines of protests to the inside of decrepit public housing units, Wilson forces us to see what we often try to ignore. Recently, Wilson began incorporating the art of film into their repertoire. From micro-film reflections on the realities of being a transgender person, to longer pieces that explore family, death, protest, and gentrification, their artistic voice is consistent and crystal clear. On February 18, Wilson’s latest work, “Weight of The World,” created during fellowship with Visionary Justice Lab, was screened during the “Resisting Narratives of Erasure” film series.

 

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Latisha “Tish” Coleman, a graduate from the North Carolina A&T University who double majored in Graphic Communication Systems and Visual Arts and Design, established herself first as a successful graphic design entrepreneur before finding her way back to her first love. Her signature pieces are masks with intricate Black hairdos painted in bold colors. While the concept is relatively simple, the end result is striking and imaginative. Tish is also a muralist and her work was a part of the “End Racism Now #BLM” street mural in Winston-Salem (she painted the “L”). Her meteoric rise as one of North Carolina’s next great conceptual artists includes exhibits all over the Triad, including the Art Pop Gallery’s billboard campaign. 

 

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Monét Noelle Marshall is definitely an artist to watch in the Triangle. The performer, filmmaker, choreographer, poet, and art consultant focuses her work on provocatively exploring the Black experience in ways that are accessible to the community, as opposed to traditional showings in art galleries and performance halls. Her latest project was the timely and piercing short film, prophesy. In collaboration with Black on Black Project founder, Michael Williams, Marshall uses the following questions to build her three-part monologue: “Why aren’t you screaming?,” “Why aren’t you laughing?” and “Why are you crying?” Each part moves the audience through the process of addressing white supremacy’s historic and consistent degradation of Black bodies from our individual positions in society. Marshall has also written a new film, Knead, with S. Milo Silver which will premiere during the Durham-based Hayti Heritage Film Festival as a staged reading on March 3. The film will also screen during the festival on March 1

 

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Boris “Bluz” Rogers’ 20-year career as a spoken word artist, voice actor, hip hop artist, and storyteller has earned him the affectionate title of one of Charlotte’s OGs of his craft. He has shared the stage with accomplished poets and artists, and has even earned an Emmy. As true leaders are known to do, he is now helping to build institutions as the Blumenthal Performing Arts’ new Director of Creative Engagement. In this position he seeks to create more meaningful connections between the arts center and the surrounding community. Rogers also recently released a new album with Soulganics vocalist, Anthony Rodriguez entitled BLUZ X ANRŌ • Duologue Part 1: Conversations In A Vibe Room

 

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Fred Joiner is an accomplished poet and curator based in Chapel Hill. The current poet laureate for the progressive art enclave of Carrboro, Joiner complements the anti-establishment spirit of Carrboro with his probing poetic style. His 2016 poem “Currency” and 2019 poem “Consume/d” are, among other things, statements about capitalism and the consumerism that it demands of us. There is also an evocative quality to Joiner’s work that puts you inside a scene, a conversation, or a moment, like the poem “be specific” from his 2019 micro book, Blood Sound. He has been published in a number of literary journals and anthologies, including the monumental All The Songs We Sing: A Celebration Of North Carolina’s Black Writers. This collection, created by artists from the Carolina African American Artists’ Collective, includes three of Joiner’s poems: “Father Sound,” “Seven Ways of Looking at Black Flowers,” and “Gullah.”

 

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Clarence Heyward is a product of North Carolina’s great HBCUs and their under-celebrated arts programs. Born in New York, Heyward moved south where he attended North Carolina Central University in Durham and graduated with a degree in Arts Education. Art proved to be a passion strong enough to pursue full time, and Heyward proved himself talented enough to find success. As an artist-in-residence at Raleigh’s Anchorlight Gallery, Heyward developed his first solo exhibit entitled Descendants of Sire. His portrait style is bold and evocative, mixing the Black body with lettering and nationalistic objects to create layers of meaning and intent. “PTSD,” a self-portrait of Heyward handcuffed with an American-flag ball cap and golden background, displays his succinct and provocative style. Heyward’s work was recently on display in Greensboro and is expected to be seen in the Artfields 2021 Competition in Lake City, South Carolina.

Garrison Gist’s love of art and football shaped his years at the University of South Carolina, but art is what became his passion after graduating in 2015. While former teammates and friends in Charlotte’s art scene knew he was talented, Gist’s pop art style gained regional acclaim after painting a portrait of DeadPool in the Black Lives Matter mural on Tryon Street. More opportunities quickly followed, including the Charlotte We Are Hip Hop mural, a stunning mural at Sunset Park in Rock Hill, and a recently completed art project at the new Black-owned restaurant, What The Fries in south Charlotte. Gist’s technicolored, cartoon-inspired style suggests what it would look like if Andy Warhol enjoyed comic books and anime. It’s also deeply rooted in the street art tradition, but it’s his dynamic composition and precision that sets him apart.

Lo’Vonia Parks is “Black Joy” personified. That whimsy is expressed throughout her work in the materials she uses: cardboard, chalk, and ‘80s-throwback Perler beads. From her vibrant murals and her innovative pixel art to her quirky portraits, the SCAD-trained caricaturist keeps your mind engaged long after your smile fades. She beautifully captures the unique qualities of her subjects– ranging from Black icons like Tupac and Nipsey Hussle to a beloved pet– in a way that exudes emotion, humor, and honor. Parks isn’t carefully maneuvering a tightrope; she’s dancing across the clouds with rebellious pleasure.

 

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Know an artist or creative that deserves to be included in this series? Email us at press@CLTure.org.

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