After 999 drawings, created and posted over the last 6½ years, I’ve finally reached the last two portraits in my 1001 Black Men Online Sketchbook.
You may have noticed that most of my drawings depict Black men in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve lived in Oakland, California since 1999, and the portraits in this series depict the people I encounter in my day-to-day life.
For my last two drawings, though, I’ve looked outside the Bay Area to include two of my favorite Black men, the first an old friend and new colleague, and the second a beloved family member. I will begin a new portrait-based series later this month, and in that series, I will include several of the local African American men who I was not able to include in the 1001 Black Men series; but because that next project focuses solely on Bay Area residents, I will be able to include neither of these last two figures, because each lives far outside our SF Bay region.
Drawing #1000 is a portrait of Scott Poulson-Bryant. If you’ve ever picked up an issue of Vibe Magazine or watched the late 1990s VH1 series Four on the Floor, then you’ll probably recognize him. He spent years as a journalist, and was widely known for his insightful and nuanced work on hip-hop music and its personalities. Today, Scott is an Assistant Professor of English at Fordham University, where he teaches courses in African American literature and cultural studies.
I first met Scott during our early undergraduate years at Brown University, where we shared an interest in writing and pop culture as well as a love of hip-hop dance parties. In the years since that time, we’ve crossed paths on both coasts, as we’ve each made our way through careers in that interesting and generative space where African American culture, arts, and literature meet.
The story of Scott’s journey from Brown University undergrad to hip-hop journalist (and one of the founders of Vibe Magazine) to Harvard PhD student to Fordham Professor is as unexpected as it is inspiring; and it’s a story he tells best. Check out this recent interview on the Fordham English website: Faculty Highlights–Scott Poulson-Bryant.
At Sweet Fingers Caribbean Restaurant, Brooklyn, New York.
Sweet Bar Bakery and Cafe, Broadway, Oakland, CA.
If you wear pink glasses and a pink t-shirt, then you have definitely earned a pink and purple psychedelic background.
Times Square subway station, New York, NY., April 2016.
At the American Museum of Natural History, in the Hall of Primitive Mammals, New York, NY.
One day, perhaps during my next sabbatical, I will travel to my favorite U.S. cities; and, in each one, I will spend the day riding mass transit, drawing the Black men I see. Subways and buses are some of the best places to experience the true heartbeat of a city and its people.
I saw this young brother on a subway ride from Brooklyn to SoHo. His braids were coiffed to perfection, and I wasn’t the only person on our subway car who noticed. He didn’t see any of our glances, though; he was staring straight ahead, focused on whatever music device he was holding in his hands.
It’s election night, and things aren’t going quite as I’d hoped. So, I’ll take a page out of President Barack Obama’s book, and dedicate this post to celebrating the good things about life in the U.S. that will remain the same, no matter who wins the presidency.
This is but another of the drawings I did of the Black men I saw at the Kehinde Wiley exhibit, at the Brooklyn Museum. That exhibit was more powerful than I could ever have imagined, and I say this as someone who was a Wiley fan for years before I ever saw the Brooklyn Museum show.
Tomorrow morning, no matter who is president, Kehinde Wiley will continue to create beautiful art that resists the dehumanizing stereotypes applied to men of African descent. Tomorrow morning, technological innovations will continue to place the means of production and the means of distribution in the hands of the masses, so that people of African descent can continue to create media that reflects our understandings and experiences of the world. Tomorrow morning, the New Great Migration of people in every nation on the planet , from rural areas to cities, will continue to reshape economies and cultures worldwide, including in the U.S.
Most importantly, tomorrow morning, whether Clinton or Trump is our president-elect, western nations of the global north will continue to become increasingly diverse, identities will become increasingly complicated, and–from Europe to the U.S.–the browning of the northern hemisphere will continue, unabated.
To the current majority, I say, don’t be afraid. Instead, embrace diversity and accept the reality of demographic change. Another Democrat, many decades ago, said it best: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Strand Bookstore, New York, NY, April 2016.
At the Kehinde Wiley exhibit, Spring 2015, Brooklyn, New York.
On the subway, New York, NY.
One of the reasons it’s taken me such a long time to complete the last 40-some-odd drawings in my 1001 Black men series is that I’ve had the opportunity to create several new pieces and a new issue of my comic book, all for events taking place this summer.
I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to show my work to so many people. Art has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I treasure every chance I’ve gotten to share my it with others.
I also think, though, that a part of what has kept me from finishing the series is that I don’t really want to say goodbye to this project. I don’t believe I’ll ever again undertake the task of doing such a lengthy project, and yet it’s been such a big part of my life that I don’t really know what my life would look without a challenge like this.
No matter what my imagination brings me, in terms of future projects, I will miss the way this series has changed the way I look and myself and my place in the world, in my city, and in my Black community.