Art can be evocative and profound. It can speak to larger social movements and provoke change. As the late artist Elizabeth Catlett once wrote in her 1989 book Traditions and Transformations: Contemporary Afro American Sculpture, “Art is only important to the extent that it aids in the liberation of our people.” Catlett was a fervent supporter of the Civil Rights Movement and championed equality for all people. As such, many of her works captured the essence of the indomitable human spirit, adversity, social enlightenment, and cultural pride. From Catlett’s perspective, art was a medium that transcended mere aestheticism. Beyond her creativity and acumen, Catlett utilized art to uplift downtrodden and oppressed people.

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As the granddaughter of former slaves and the daughter of educators, Catlett inherited a sense of pride in her African American heritage. Her father, who passed away before she was born, was a mathematics professor at the Tuskegee Institute and her mother worked as a truant officer. Catlett’s grandmother told her stories about suffering as a slave and the perseverance of African Americans in spite of slavery. As such, Catlett was well aware of the plight of African Americans and embraced her racial identity. She also gained an appreciation for the determination of African American woman by observing her mother struggle to support the family.
Even in her own life Catlett experienced discrimination and prejudice firsthand. Catlett wanted to pursue a higher education and applied to the Carnegie Institute of Technology. Unfortunately, she was barred from admission due to her race. In spite of racial discrimination, Catlett was determined to further her education and attended Howard University. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Art and later received a MFA in sculpture from the University of Iowa. During her studies Catlett made African Americans the focal point of her artwork. The onslaught of racism and inequality inspired her to create works that reflected the African American experience.

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While Catlett was dedicated to portraying the plight and resiliency of African Americans, she and other artists of her ilk were challenging the status quo in the United States which drew the ire of the American government. At the height of McCarthyism, Communist supporters and sympathizers were blacklisted and/or imprisoned. Catlett’s first husband, Charles White, was a member of the Communist Party so they decided to leave the United States. In addition, Catlett received the Julius Rosenwald Fund Fellowship which enabled her and White to travel to Mexico City.

As a resident in Mexico, Catlett wanted to preserve her liberty without compromising her artistic integrity. She became active in the Taller de Gráfica Popular workshop which was founded by artists Leopoldo Méndez, Raúl Anguiano, Luis Arenal, and Pablo O’Higgins. This was a community of like-minded artists dedicated to promoting social equality and conveying the authenticity of oppressed and marginalized people. She divorced Charles White and married Mexican artist Francisco Mora. It was also during this time that she created her linoleum cut series titled The Negro Woman.
With this series, Catlett depicted African American women as resilient and endearing human beings. Catlett also crafted an overarching narrative to complement her artistic representations of African American women. As Catlett wrote, “I am the Negro woman. I have always worked hard in America. In the fields. In other folks’ homes. I have given the world my songs. In Sojourner Truth I fought for the rights of women as well as Negroes. In Harriet Tubman I helped hundreds to freedom. In Phillis Wheatley I proved intellectual equality in the midst of slavery. My role has been important in the struggle to organize the unorganized […] My right is a future of equality with other Americans.”
In particular, Catlett wanted to demonstrate the strength of African American women in her works. As an African American woman herself, Catlett knew how difficult it was to endure racial and gender discrimination. As she told the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times in 1992, “I wanted to show the history and strength of all kinds of black women […] Working women, country women, urban women, great women in the history of the United States.”

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Her 1952 piece, “Sharecropper” depicts an elderly black woman solemnly gazing into the distance. This woman symbolizes the strength of African Americans to endure even the most difficult circumstances. Following the Civil War, African Americans in the South lived in conditions similar to slavery. African Americans had limited opportunities for work and many of them had to resort to sharecropping to provide for themselves and their families. Although they were technically free, the master-slave dynamic still existed. In this piece, Catlett paid tribute to the anonymous individuals that suffered oppression and indignities in order to survive. While prominent figures such as Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks are deservedly immortalized in history for their contributions, countless unknown African Americans also bore excruciating burdens to pave the path for future generations.

Catlett’s piece “Homage to the Black Panthers” captures the spirit of radical activism. It features images of members of the Black Panthers as well as two black, clenched fists and an assault rifle. The Black Panthers believed that militancy was necessary to bring about equality for African Americans. Catlett’s piece illustrates the rage and resiliency of African Americans who were fed up with being treated like second-class citizens. While The Black Panthers’ methodology has garnered controversy, their desire for equality was admirable and justifiable. Since Catlett encountered the same struggles as The Black Panthers and other African Americans, she identified with their cause and portrayed their solidarity through art.

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Her piece “And a Special Fear For My Loved Ones” depicts the graphic aftermath of the lynching of a black man. The lifeless body of the man lies on the ground while his assailants trample on the severed noose hanging from his neck. Catlett evocatively gives viewers a glimpse into this bleak reality that African Americans have endured for centuries. “And a Special Fear For My Loved Ones” is still, unfortunately, relevant today. The specter of racism looms in American society and in some respects African Americans are still treated and viewed as expendable. This powerful image encapsulates the brutality of racial persecution that’s plagued America since its inception.
Even though Catlett spent the majority of her life in Mexico, she was still concerned for the well-being of African Americans and continued to portray them in her artwork. She went on to become the Professor of Sculpture for the National School of Fine Arts at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Catlett also continued her activism by organizing the Mexican Provisional Committee of Solidarity with Angela Davis, a former member of The Black Panthers. In the 21st century, Catlett was still actively creating art. She created a bronze sculpture in 2003 to honor author Ralph Ellison titled, “Invisible Man: A Memorial to Ralph Ellison” which depicts a clear silhouette of a man within a bronze rectangle.
Elizabeth Catlett was always purposeful when she created art. She wasn’t concerned with recognition or fame; she made artwork to usher in societal equality. Catlett embraced her identity as well as the history of oppression and perseverance shared by all African Americans. Her works are timeless and a testament to people who have endured, combatted, and surmounted societal injustices.
-Elijah Yarbrough

Selecting new pieces to add to your wardrobe can be frustrating for anybody, especially the ladies. You’ve got to find the right style, color, it’s gotta be in season, and it has to fit a certain way. Believe me, I understand. After sitting in waiting rooms, going in and out of seemingly every store in the mall that sells women’s clothes, hoping that the lady I’m with hurries up, and having to remain quiet about my frustration with this process. Hearing those dreaded words, “Let’s run to the mall real quick,” and cringing all over because you know that there is no such thing as “real quick” when there is shopping involved. Not to mention that you were baited by the follow up phrase, “We can swing by” whatever your favorite restaurant is, because nobody turns down that opportunity, right? So after being in the mall all day, trying to save your appetite to Hulk smash at the restaurant, and you’re on the brink of what feels like your stomach eating itself , I truly understand.

anni3Now let’s put the shoe on the other foot. How difficult do you think it would be to make something that fits the criteria that we as consumers would want to buy? This is what designer Anine Bing experienced early on, and still managed to deliver a global women’s clothing line.
Anine Bing is the name and face behind the Anine Bing women’s clothing line. Since debuting in the summer of 2012, Bing has become a very successful brand. One of the things they have set out to do is provide new items more frequently than most of the competition. Ideally, designers put out lines each season. Anine Bing, however, has stepped away from the typical season to season method and chooses to put out a few new items from week to week.

Having new material so often works pretty well for Bing, by keeping the name relevant and constantly changing things up. Another thing that Bing avoids is limiting their creativity to developing things that are in season. While this is a seemingly risky move, today’s fashion is geared for people who love to take risks and break typical rules, which makes Bing right on time for this crowd of people.

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The designer set out three years ago to make a line of clothing for women that live a life “on the go.” The kind of woman that likes to put outfits together on her own, and do so on the fly. She told Canadian based fashion publication, Style Calling, “My fabric choices are so important to me. The quality of the material I use in everything I design is important. The fabrics are very basic but luxurious. I work a lot in silk, linen and cashmere.” This line is full of pieces that are easily swapped out to suit what the customer has in mind. This allows the customer to create her own look by mixing and matching the different garments.

anni1Who exactly is the person behind the name Anine Bing? Bing is a former model, which is how she was introduced to the fashion world. Bing used her time modeling to get to learn just about everything there was to know about the fashion industry. From properly setting up photo shoots, to fitting and styling, Bing was soaking it all up trying to find what her niche would be following her career as a model. After 15 years, Bing decided to call it quits and was ready to jump into doing her own thing. During her time modeling, she had dabbled in a few separate ventures before realizing what her new calling was within the fashion industry.

During her journey finding herself, Bing also found another creative passion: music. Bing joined a group called Kill Your Darlings. Later in the interview with Style Calling she said, “Music is like therapy to me. I love writing the music, singing, and creating it. The music is good for my soul.”

During that interview, she was asked if her music influences her design. She replied, “Absolutely. It has a very similar vibe. I use my music in the videos we create for the line. They go very well together. It’s that mellow, easy vibe with a little bit of a rock and roll touch – just like the clothes.”

The Anine Bing collection can be found in hundreds of boutiques across the country, or in one of the flagship stores. By next year, there will be several more flagship stores opening overseas to add to the one already in Belgium. For Anine Bing, business is definitely booming!

– Blake Holmes

Comic book heroes are depicted as wearing capes, flying around and saving animals and small children from burning buildings.  But real-life heroes don’t portray themselves as such.  Heroes are sometimes hidden amongst the crowd, and they silently make a difference. A real-life hero doesn’t have to fly through the sky or have super strength, but just making a difference in your community can have a positive impact on the entire city.  David Choong Lee, a Korean painter, demonstrates this type of heroism when he creates projects that are dedicated to showing the problems of the world through realism, rather than painting utopias that everyone longs for.  His concept may not be ideal to some people, yet painting these pictures has given San Francisco something to think about.

cho4Immediately upon coming to San Francisco from Korea and enrolling at the Academy of Art University, Lee took it upon himself to focus his first major American project on the homeless in the streets.  Just watching the YouTube video of Lee on the streets speaking with a homeless man as he paints his portrait on boxes can bring a tear to your eye.  The way he interacts with the man while others just look away is heartbreaking.  The man that he paints, is a veteran, he is a nice individual who believes that he deserves the same rights that others of society receive on a daily basis. Lee decides to use him to expose the horrible way that the homeless people are treated.

The homeless man said his experience with the artist, was eye-opening.  In an interview with Walrus TV, an award winning magazine company that portrays life-changing stories, the man said, “I got arrested here a while back ago… for a panhandling warrant and I asked the judge, I said, ‘Judge, the constitution says everything has to be applied equally, otherwise it’s not a law.’” The man went on to explain how him panhandling on the corner of the street was no different than that of the politicians that were on the corner of the streets saying hello and asking for donations to fund their campaigns.  When the man explained the conditions of his life, it made me feel sorrow for him.  Not only that, but it made me realize that I should be thankful for the things that I have acquired in life and not take anything for granted.  The homeless man’s words, paired with the unique portrait painted on boxes, give us a small piece of what he has been through for a large chunk of his life.

cho2The majority of Lee’s paintings have been created on various boxes.  Cigar and wine boxes from several signature companies are his preference of choice when painting.  The boxes seem to pop out from the walls and the way that his work is positioned .  Looking at Village In The Wind, an oil painting series from 2013, the dozens of boxes that were captured to the gallery’s wall depicted the struggles of homelessness.  As seen in the project, homeless men are expressing sorrow for themselves in their predicament.  Not only that, but their blank expressions can be viewed by us as the men unable to figure out what to do next. They survive day to day by occasionally looking for handouts, but most of the time, they’re working hard for a little bit of change so they can get a hot meal.  Using boxes instead of a flat canvas gives the paintings a stronger, long-lasting impact.  I think that since the boxes are three dimensional, they appeal to us more than a flat surface. It’s a mentality that nudges us toward his unique style of art.

cho3It isn’t just the boxes that give us a stronger emotional impact when looking at Lee’s work, but the colors that he uses also jolt us with various emotions.  The colors in a relatively newer painting, Damon Soule, are very detailed.  The colors aren’t overly bright or anything, but they do give us an impression of what the author was feeling when he painted this.

“I’m always looking for a new technique,” Lee explained to Walrus TV.  “That what my fun part is, my kind of ‘same as you.’  You’re digging, record shopping, and then you find dope records, and then you can’t wait to mix with other sh*t. Exactly, the same thing.”  This is evident when glancing at his work over a long period of time.  His work began by focusing on realism and the problems that he felt the need to bring attention to.  He still paints the picture of the issues that society is facing, but his work has taken a slight turn towards abstract art.  Going back to Damon Soule, you can see the evolution in his painting when comparing it to Urbanscape, a series of paintings that he created in 2005.  The colors have become more striking over the years.  The colors that he uses now almost infuse with one another to give his paintings more meaning. dynamic character has allowed him to be a well-rounded artist who is capable of depicting his beliefs in both realistic and abstract art.

-Te’Ron Adams