Social media is the most popular way to communicate in today’s society. It’s fast, immediate and with platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Vine where you witness the evolution of accessibility, we recognize them as permanent fixtures of communication. In 2013,the world watched as Egyptian led several mass protests calling for the resignation of their president on Twitter; and, as mentioned in the previous section, the Black Lives Matter Movement took root on Twitter too.
Artwork by Zahira Santana “Distortedd”: http://www.distortedd.com
Black people use Twitter so much to communicate among each other that a sub-Twitter virtual community called “Black Twitter” has become a main source of sharing news, media, music, art, photos, memes, and live commentary. Similar to “The New Negro (es)” of the 1920s that formed this great artistic renaissance had a physical home/birthplace in Harlem, NY where the means of awareness were told through newspapers, such as the Survey Graphic, or word-of- mouth but unlike the Harlem Renaissance, this new artistic movement now taking place does not have a physical birthplace. Not to give a full-on history lesson, but it was because of the migration, after our ‘emancipation,’ that we moved to certain northern cities. New York was one of those places. Now, we everywhere. Even despite the progression of civil rights, we are still treated like unwanted guests; it’s only natural that Soul Trap found it’s footing in a place without soil, belonging to no one, the internet. Black Twitter, along with other social media outlets, have shown artists of all platforms realizing that if you gain a large enough following and shared web circulation; you can have the career of your dreams.
Artwork by Paper Frank: http://www.paperfrank.com
April 2015 Shay Will called me to tell me that he’d quit his job a couple of months ago, and that he wanted to become an artist full time. I wasn’t surprised by this at all, I’ve known Shay since I was twelve and he’s been one of the most talented painters I know. After the conversation, I honed in on the fact that most Black children growing up in America are not encouraged to pursue creative careers such as painting, dancing, cooking, fashion, modeling, photography, modeling, or even as writing. We are told to go to college, get a good stable career working for someone else. I remember my mother’s reaction when I decided to study film at grad school instead of cashing in my first degree and accepting a career with Northrop Grumman. My mother was so pissed she initially threatened to pull any and all support she provides. Days later after telling her of my ambitions she came to terms with my dreams and supported me. This dream brought me to Los Angeles, CA where I now have a career as a freelance Camera Assistant.
Artwork by Blue the Great: http://bluethegreat.com/
I mentioned all that to say when Shay expressed leaving the 9 to 5 that had nothing to do with his talents or dreams, it was very easy for me to understand and support him in pursuing Art as a full time career. Shay also expressed wanting to do his first career show in Los Angeles just so the people back home in Bowie, MD and Washington D.C. could note how serious he was/is to making it happen. I signed on to put the show together with Shay here in LA, but I had to ask Shay, “Who are some artists currently established that have notoriety and how did they get there?” Shay pointed me to Instagram, highlighting the following artist: Paper Frank, Blue the Great (oddly enough the only artist I was already aware of since 2014), Santana and Markus Prime.
Artwork by Markus Prime: http://www.mlnnprime.com/
“This is my canvas
I’ma paint it how I want it baby, oh I
This is my canvas
I’ma paint it, paint it, paint it, how I want it nigga
Fuck you cause there, there is no right or wrong, only a song
I like to ride/write alone, be in my zone”- “Apparently” J. Cole
All four of these artists have different styles of art, live in different parts of the U.S. (Atlanta, New York, and Los Angeles) but they all have this “Black Expressionism” undertone to them. Markus Prime’s illustrations, for example, provokes a new level of empowerment within the culture by taking well-known animated characters; Superwoman, Batman, Wonder Woman etc. and giving them black identities, more importantly, they’re all artwork of Black Women, no matter the initial gender of the character. This is very important. These images did not exist in mainstream America, there were very few black characters or images that existed when most of us were growing up. If there were, they were usually a minor character, or the token black kid- but also keep in mind it’s not only in animation or paintings that there were scarce creative imagery of Black people. What’s important to note it that their work does not portray Black people as being aggressive and in turn avoids the “Urban Art” box. The same goes for modeling, dance, and other creative platforms that, if they have a large Black presence it is immediately categorized as “Urban,” the political correct term for “ghetto” which puts Black people’s creativity under a very low glass ceiling that limits its appeal. Now when I look around on social media outlets such as Instagram, I see Black ballerinas, models, chefs, fashion designers, graphic artist, photographers, painters, etc. that are able to have creative freedom and make a living off what they do without needing approval from art critics, casting directors, or other middle level approvals that were once required to pursue such careers.
“Oh God my IG is like iIV to this lifestyle
I buy this shit, take a pic
And you OD on my life files”- “P*ssy” The Dream ft Pusha T and Big Sean
Social Media has allowed Black creatives to take it straight to the people to receive reception, fans/followers, or direct consumers. Like Winnie Harlow, an American Top Model contestant with a unique skin disease, “vitiligo,” was discovered when she popped up on Tyra Banks’ Instagram feed. I was further exposed to this reality while being around an associate, Char; who some may limit her, and label her as an Instagram model, only because she is not super thin with European features or because she has not been on the cover of Vogue magazine yet but I see her as a professional model. I was on a shoot with my close friend, Adam Simms as he was shooting her, and like any professional model, she knew what exposures worked best with her look and how to find unique poses that suited the theme. After, we grabbed food, while eating I heard firsthand that with the increase in followers on her Instagram, the more companies and brands wanted to partner with her to promote their products. Just like any professional model she requires these brands to send over contracts and have her legal team review them. This showed me that if you can find a large enough crowd that appreciates who you are, or how you want to present yourself, that you are in control of your artistic destinies. This kind of creative control and freedom used to only exist for people who, over years, cultivated a following, we usually define them as celebrities.
August 2015 I was able to successfully launch Shay’s art show, “Hooligans and Hyenas” but afterwards I experienced what some may call a ‘championship hangover;’ the goal was reached, so what now? I started to be more aware of how this renaissance theory was being pieced together. Then in November, a graffiti artist by the name of Shakir Manners reached out to me on Instagram. He invited me to come out with him the next time he was going to do a wall, I think, from my Instagram, he could tell I have a high interest in graffiti and more importantly to him, that I have photography skills. Manners was in the process of expanding his appeal on social media, he needed a photographer to help better document his work, and I was interested in learning more about someone who is a career artist. Upon meeting Manners, I noticed him wearing a dashiki, he immediately tested my knowledge of the Graff culture and history, he assigned a book to read Subway Art as well as two documentaries- the fact that he was so deeply, rooted in the culture, and from Maryland, a place with very little Graff culture amazed me. He showed me the real rise of Black Dream Chasers because he moved to Los Angeles from Maryland three years ago to pursue his graffiti and art career.
The word “Urban” gave our creative outlets so many limits because it makes everything seem less articulate or gives people the perception that it lacks proper training. This word puts a big hindrance on Black dancers, along with having a curvy shape and not an ideal ‘dancers body’ makes a career as a dancer next to impossible. Sightings of a unicorn used to seem more realistic than seeing a real Black ballerina. Dancer Misty Copland now rejuvenates a sense of hope for more Black dancers to receive such opportunities. I’ve seen more women pursue a college degree while being able to still drive their dance career ambitions like my good friend Latisha Price with her Educated Dancer movement that pushes young Black girls and women to pursue their dreams in dance while still focusing on academic excellence. I also saw two women: Desiree Dixon and Tasha B alums of my alma mater North Carolina A&T State University dance on one of the United States biggest events on national television; Super Bowl 50 alongside Beyoncé. That performance was the true icing on the cake for me, as I mentioned in the intro, I witnessed the transition of their careers through Instagram, but it wasn’t just me, that night, there’s was so much pride, community, and love for all these dancers on Black Twitter and Instagram. That’s when I recognized the difference in how people celebrated these dancers, it was personal and it’s because they had a bigger sense of how hard they worked to reach this point because social media allowed them to be a part of the journey. To see them share a stage with Beyoncé, during Super Bowl halftime, while artistically expressing a powerful message brought everything full circle for me. I was no longer just thinking of this idea, Soul Trap, but the philosophy was proving itself a movement by evolving during some of the most difficult times in America. I could not ignore it.
It’s important that I share these stories so you understand the journey that’s brought me to this brewing philosophy of mine; as I watch us break away from the ugly label of urban, to now living under the Soul Trap Renaissance era we are not conscious of. Soul Trap is the beautiful struggle we as black people endure, a place where the sophistication, creativity, and a new generational oppression collide. Soul Trap is the rose that grows from the concrete in the ghetto.
Editor: Danielle Koon
Chief Editor: Ericka Brownlee
Dedicated to those who dare to chase their Dreams.