As a Christian who is an artist, I frequently ask myself if the ideas I generate glorify God and are an expression of love. In this talk, I will share some examples of how I have used art to generate dialogue about social issues and how doing so is an expression of love.
Nery Gabriel Lemus was born in Los Angeles, in 1977. The subjects in his work range from issues of stereotype, division and immigration to problems in society that can lead to the failure of families. Lemus received his BFA at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California (2007) and his MFA at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California (2009). Lemus also attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine (2008). He is a recipient of a California Community Foundation Fellowship, a COLA Fellowship Grant from the Department of Cultural Affairs, and the Rema Hort Mann Foundation Fellowship Award. He is represented by Charlie James Gallery in Los Angeles. You can learn more about his work at www.nerygabriellemus.com.
It’s my pleasure to be here. What I’m gonna be sharing with you guys today is two bodies of work that I’ve been working on for the last couple years. And in so doing, I hope to begin to talk about this whole idea of love and humility within the creation of artworks and of course, with social justice. As a Christian artist, the thing that I always think about, is what I’m doing as an artist glorifying God?
And the way I think about it is through the lens of love and I think to myself, is the work that I’m creating showing love to the individuals that I am presenting, or is it also showing love to, let’s say, people that might not agree with what I’m saying. The two bodies of work I’m gonna show you, the first one is from a body of work called Friction of Distance. And what you’ve been seeing in these slides are images of birds migrating and people migrating.
And so what I wanted to do is talk about immigration, but think about it as in relationship to something that I could relate to, or people could relate to in society and I thought about birds migrating. So when birds migrate, they have to, they do it for, either for getting food, conditions, there’s many reasons.
And people also have different reasons why they migrate. And so for me, I wanted to create this metaphoric link between both ways of migrating, some of it is through the air, some of it is through land and through water. So each one of these images, to the left you’ll see on the other one too, so this one you see a drawing and to the left you see a photograph. Let me see, sorry let me go back real quick. So if we look at this first one you see four black bellied whistling ducks migrating and four men. They’re very descriptive so within the images, it’s not romanticized like, having a romanticized title, but it’s just descriptive.
And my hope is to really look at when people immigrate, there’s potential of getting robbed, potential of getting killed, there’s so many factors that go into that So for me, these are the things that I’m interested as I’m creating. I’m trying to make relationships and really think about, trying to really think about whether the work that I’m doing is touching on a subject where I’m not speaking down to somebody, but I just kinda making these relationships. The next body of work, growing up in L.A., one of the things I saw a lot was tensions between African Americans and Latinos.
And it really troubled me and so I created this body of work where you see a brown bear and a black panther who begin to have a relationship with each other. The brown bear’s name is Corky, named after Corky Gonzales, who was a civil rights activist. And the black panther, his name is Bunchy, after Bunchy Carter who was a Black Panther. And so in this story, I wanted to highlight several things. One of the things I wanted to highlight was absentee fathers, so the mothers raised the brown cub.
And then you know of course, the mama panther raises the little panther. And it’s very poetic. Man these things are just jumping on me. For far, very far behind, Corky’s father went and left, but Corky will always bear in mind the strong mother that he kept. The idea is to, again, point to this absence of a father figure and relate it also to both African American and Latino communities. For like over 15 years I worked as a behavior specialist in communities, African American, Latino communities, and one of the major things that I saw was the absence of the father figure and that’s always important for me to express that in the work that I do.
At some point, both of these figures go off on their own and then there’s a meeting point where they come together and they actually meet. And they kind of, it says here, ‘And here, or hereabouts, they meet. ‘Circling to settle their roles as such ‘to barter their assumed fret, ‘Corky and Bunchy were curious in much.’ So they begin to meet each other and to, it’s this whole situation even for me, being a Latino and going into communities. I remember in school, where people that are not from the culture that I was coming from, and dealing with differences.
What was troubling for me was always hearing different things of within my own community, talking bad about African Americans. So when I think about those things as an artist, I wanna be able to create something because I have a, I see, when I see something that troubles me within society, I want to create some work to have a discussion about it.
So I began to look at this brown bear and the black panther, also to kind of bring in the child story and part of this exhibition, I had this rug. And this rug is, if we look at it from this angle, it says ‘we can’t breathe’, and the other side it says ‘our lives matter’. And it’s really talking about looking at the violence that has been going on between African Americans and Latinos. Not only through police, but in the neighborhoods, and those sort of things. The panthers in the center are of course, in reference to the Black Panthers, who at some point had food programs for kids and those sort of things in the community. And the eagle also looks at UFW, United Farm Workers.
But the Brown Berets, who was a Latino, kind of mirror organizations like the Black Panthers, they also used this symbol. The thing that I thought about that stood out for me, and a lot of people have issues with people saying black lives matter, because they’ll say all lives matter. And what I started to think about is I’m a father, I have two kids, and for me it was like saying, well, what if my younger son passed away, his name is Mateo. And I say Mateo’s life matters. And somebody else says to me, well, all kids’ lives matter. And I’ll say, you’re very insensitive.
I just had a loss and this is reflecting. So for me, that’s why it’s important to begin to generate work that makes people think, and even think about the slogan, just these words, it’s not saying something like, you know the police are horrible and blah blah. It’s like saying, hey look, we’re important, we matter. And so that’s my presentation and thank you for letting me share with you guys.