Michael Chukes poses next to his sculpture “Escaped Convict.” Photo by Tobaji Stewart.
Saddened, angered and disappointed by the brutality against black men by police, Michael Chukes began the year with an explosion of creativity resulting in the pieces for “Identity Theft,” his exhibit of paintings and sculptures on display at the Joyce Gordon Gallery until September 2.
To Chukes, false narratives, especially for black people, are a real threat first to their inner lives, where historical identity begins with slavery, and secondly to their physical lives, where the unfounded ‘fears’ of police get them killed with astounding frequency.
Nearly overwhelmed by his own anger and hurt, disappointed that artists and others with more renown than he didn’t speak out in protest, Chukes decided that he would respond to this theft of life with the tools he has as an artist.
Thanking his wife, Rhonda, and all who attended opening night, Chukes said “This is my expression, the most powerful love I have.”
The love shows. His just-larger-than-life busts are commentary and observation of life as experienced by people of African descent, while the paintings in oil and graphite are subtle invitations to come closer, look deeper.
In the gallery window, ‘The Statue of Limitations,’ shows a black person wearing the crown and gown of the Statue of Liberty, but raising a clenched fist while cradling a book and a length of chain in the other arm. “Most people don’t know the history of the Statue of Liberty,“ Chukes said of the gift from France that was originally an image of a black woman.
Inside, we are greeted by archetypical pairs of black folks. ‘King and Queen of America,’ represent the royalty who were kidnapped in Africa, while ‘Brotha’ and ‘Sista’ are the relations made unknown because of slavery, whose dignity is untrammeled.
‘Escaped Convict’ has the intelligent visage of a prophet, or revolutionary determined to get to a promised land always beyond reach.
But it is the ‘Africans Only’ that commands instant attention. Inspired by the world-renowned brass statues of ancient Benin, the pair of elegantly molded busts have mirrors where faces would have been. “What I did in those pieces was create royalty…. When you look in the mirror you see yourself as royalty.”
This is important, Chukes said, because humanity originated in Africa, and the reflection allows all people to see themselves as Africans.
Meet Michael Chukes at the artist’s talk on Thurs. Aug. 17 at 404 14th St. from 6-9 p.m.