DETROIT, Michigan — Jonathan Harris wants his art to generate important discussions.
“My goal is to tell the Black story through my point of view,” the Detroit artist said. “Hopefully, the world will pick up on it and say, ‘I want to change my mind about certain situations.’”
Harris created a piece that may live on to tell stories about American Black history.
“The piece is titled ‘Critical Race Theory,’” Harris said. “The piece shows our historical figures like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Harriet Tubman on a road together and a Caucasian person painting over those figures. Critical race theory, to me, is the history of Blacks coming to America before America and in America. I just believe that that history should be told. I know it’s not pretty and it’s very sad, but that’s the way you heal. You don’t say that it didn’t happen and cover it up. That’s all Black people want— is to address this and move forward.”
Some experts say Harris’ painting is one of many across the country capturing this moment in time and reflecting the critical role of art as history.
“As regard to art's role to history and society, it goes back to the beginning of humankind,” said James Dozier, an expert in Black art and history. “There are paintings showing the raised black fists, there are paintings depicting the struggles of the various civil rights heroes. I think it will become one of the iconic images that will reference back to this period. It’s always exciting when an artist can take a complex subject matter and distill it and present it in a poetic essence.”
Harris hopes this piece sparks more discussion for anyone who sees it. But more importantly, he hopes this generation of artists can have a positive impact on the country’s future.
“That’s the only way we are going to get any progress,” Harris said. “We have to get uncomfortable before we get comfortable, and we have to have tough conversations like this.”