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Black Artists Explore Art And Identity


Lance Smith

The intersection of race, art and identity came to a head last year when an artist’s rendering of a black Virgin Mary, on an outdoor utility box, led a nearby business owner to paint over it.

Lance Smith is that Las Vegas artist who painted that image. His new show looks at morality in the face of violence. He was inspired by a quote from writer and activist James Baldwin.

“The work is really meant to try to force the viewer to have a conversation with themselves about the things that they would in some ways see as normalized,” Smith said.

Smith said he wants this work to shine a light on how marginalized groups are being treated right now.

DePaul Vera, an artist from Reno whose work often comments on black/white identity as well as sexuality, was also inspired by recent events for a piece he did. 

“My work consists of images of segregation and discrimination from the 1950s and 60s and I’m merging them together with current trends using digital collage,” he said.

A recent work combined a black man with a beach ball facing off with members of the Ku Klux Klan. Vera said he created the work after the marches and counter-protests in Charlottesville this past summer.

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Vera said in all his work he tries to give his point of view as a queer, black man.

 “My work is often underrepresented and I feel it is a necessity to try and counter what is represented as black and queer in the society we live in today.,” he said.

Both Smith and Vera identify as queer and they both have felt marginalized even with the black community.

“It definitely speaks to a black narrative that I have felt outside this community for so long," Vera said, "It is rough.”

Smith's work is on display at the Las Vegas City Hall as part of a Black History Month display. Smith admits that his feelings about Black History Month can be complicated.

"I think for me, Black History Month is so important. It may be the shorted month of year  - let’s get that straight – I think it’s a time as people of color, African-American peoples… there is a little bit more connectivity between us,” he said.

But he also doesn't want to be seen as a token or have it be that only time his work would be displayed is in February.

“You have to be able to navigate in that tokenism without allowing it to be the only thing that you are,” he said.

From Desert Companion: Lance Smith's "Moral Monsters" (Editor's note: this website contains graphic material)


Lance Smith, artist; DePaul Vera, artist

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