Orange Mound-based black arts organization The CLTV (Collective) opened a new exhibition last month called "The Audacity: Addressing Our Representation in Popular Culture," featuring the works of 12 artists, all black illustrators, comic and manga artists, and toymakers, whose hopes are to represent themselves through characters set in fictional worlds and stories.
Guest curator Ed Williams sought to build upon the popular hashtag #RepresentationMatters, which is about providing narratives about people of color or of different orientations, genders, backgrounds, and abilities.
- Darius Williams, DBW Photography
- Ed Williams, guest curator and founder of Mayke Entertainment LLC
"Some of us dream of being superheroes," he says. "Some of us just want to see ourselves. So the core of this show is definitely about representation. You know, black people, we just want to see ourselves as superheroes, flying, saving the day, in space. We just want to be visible outside of slavery movies and things like that."
Williams' comic book line, developed under his company Mayke Entertainment LLC, is featured at the exhibit to show the "characters, stories, and mythologies from the color palette that represents the world."
"My motivation for working with comic book characters started when I was a kid," he says. "I always loved superheroes. But I started noticing that none of the superheroes that I love actually looked like me. And it was a very hard thing to digest. Because when I went looking for black superheroes, I found sidekicks and I found villains. And I was just like, wow, is that what I'm limited to?"
His installation features character cutouts, posters, comics, and lookbook pages of four of Mayke's characters: Tremor, John Henry, Braxton, and Bolt. Tremor, who was conceptualized in 2009, two years before Mayke was founded, was based on Williams himself.
"You'll see me all throughout there in how he looks, his size and things like that," he says. "That was inspired by the fact that there were no heavy-set superheroes that people could take seriously. They were always like the punch line, and I hated that."
Adjacent to Ed Williams' Mayke display is that of local artist Quinn McGowan's comic book company, Legends Press Comics, showcasing comic books Elsewhere and Project: Wildfire, a map of Shelby City (inspired by Memphis), an action figure, and drawings of his characters mingling with characters from pop culture. In one piece, entitled Bad Cousin, the main hero, Wildfire, is seen attending a party with Erik Killmonger from Black Panther.
"Black Panther was sort of universal in its connectivity to black audiences," says McGowan. "And Erik Killmonger being the primary African-American character, he resonates on a pretty high level, even if you don't agree with him completely morally. So when a character or person from our community makes it, we all jokingly say he's our cousin."
McGowan says Wildfire is inspired by his grandfather.
"My grandfather and I used to watch wrestling when I was little on Saturdays, and then after that, Ultraman would come on, and he would fight monsters," he says. "One of his favorite wrestlers was a wrestler from the Memphis circuit called Wildfire, Tommy Rich. So everything is a piecemeal letter to my grandpa, who's pictured in the center of all of those images."
McGowan and his friend Kennedy Moore are currently developing a 16-bit video game that mimics a television cartoon with gameplay during the "commercial breaks."
"It would be a representation of if we were represented more in media," says McGowan. "That could have been what I experienced when I got home from school at three o'clock in the afternoon."
Other artists featured in "The Audacity" include Parker-Nia Gordon, Toonky Berry, Mia Saine, Kenneth Alexander, Dezmond Gipson, Sarai, David Yancy III, Amber Williams, Grant Butler, and Therrious Davis. The exhibition is on display through March 12th at The CLTV CMPLX (2234 Lamar).