In today’s tense climate following the U.S. presidential election, virtually everything has taken on an extra layer of political nuance. Take for example a seemingly apolitical project by cognac brand, Hennessy to commission artists to create original work inspired by the brand’s Wild Rabbit campaign (defined as “the ever evolving pursuit to push past the limits of one’s potential”) and “Never stop. Never settle,” mantra. What on the surface could have been read solely as an exercise in the convergence of art and commerce, had a tinge of political relevance thanks to art created by award-winning artist, Kadir Nelson and Pratt Institute graduate student, Setareh Parvin.
On Thursday December 1 at The Market Gallery during Art Basel Miami Beach, Nelson—best known for creating recording artist, Drake’s 2013 “Nothing Was the Same” album cover—publicly unveiled his painting of the late Muhammad Ali. The boxing legend was renowned for his prowess in the ring and equally reviled and celebrated for his political views on war, racism, and religious freedom. It was the politically active side of Ali that inspired Nelson’s painting of him from the neck up with his mouth agape in pain, frustration, anger, or just sheer outspoken behavior.
“I chose to depict Ali with his mouth open because he spoke his mind and was a great spokesman for the work that he did,” said Nelson, a Pratt alumnus. “Ali took a stance and had strong beliefs. That’s something all of us can learn from; to be ourselves despite all obstacles that we encounter.”
One of the current global obstacles is division along lines of race, ethnicity, and borders. In Parvin’s participatory installation you may have missed reference to this topic had people not been urged to activate her work. In “Roots” Parvin created a garden of white paper flowers that when lifted by the stem revealed a paintbrush at the end in a pot of yellow, red, or blue paint. Guests were invited to then paint the white flowers in an act celebrating national pride and unity.
“I come from a diverse background. I am Venezuelan and lived in Hong Kong. The colors in my work represent the Venezuelan flag,” she said. “In these times of political civil divisions I wanted to combine colors and people to show unity. We are all creating one piece of art together.”
As winners of Project Wild Rabbit, Parvin and fellow Pratt student, Arian Beauregard will receive seed money to further their creative careers and continue producing work that, directly or indirectly, speaks to these political times.
The column, On the “A” w/Souleo, covers the intersection of the arts, culture entertainment and philanthropy in Harlem and beyond and is written by Souleo, founder and president of arts administration company, Souleo Enterprises.