By Virginia Lowman
During a chaotic year that has laid bare the divisive inequities within our society, music and art have often served as universal entities to ground us, tell our stories, and provide a sense of escape. Now, a new exhibition hosted by MTV pays homage to that sense of unity. Nestled appropriately within the belowground subway station at Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue terminal at Barclays Center — that great mixing pot where riders from all walks of life brush elbows on a communal commute, as well as the initially planned home of the 2020 VMAs — the show takes over public advertising spaces to amplify the diverse work of eight emerging visual artists working in a variety of media.
Conceptualized by MTV’s Rich Tu, Vice President of Digital Design, and Antonia Baker, Senior Director of Marketing, who were inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests that took place at Barclays Center earlier in the summer, each artist submitted original pieces inspired by the themes of unity, music, space, and the future, which will remain on view through September 6. Where some works feature futuristic dance parties in outer space, others aim to combat tropes that lead people to view BIPOC communities through an exoticizing lens. The result is a vibrant picture of youth and the beauty of the differences that exist between us, as well as a love letter to New York City. Here, the artists share their stories, the inspiration for their work, and more.
- Amika Cooper, Illustrator
Amika Cooper’s exuberant depictions of Black women as divine and powerful beings are both a call to activism and a celebration of the beauty of Blackness and the LGBTQ+ community. “It’s important to me to refute the idea of the ‘strong Black woman’ and other tropes that limit the public perspective of Black femmes,” she tells MTV News. Working across digital illustration, 2-D animation, and collage, her art plays with space and draws upon rich hues: showing Black women as healers and rulers with lush curls or donning Egyptian headdresses as rulers of the galaxy. Raised in Toronto, she now calls Brooklyn home, but her West Indian and South American heritage is tightly woven into her work. “The culture I grew up on is the product of the unwavering ingenuity in enslaved and indentured people,” Cooper says. Her latest pieces lean heavily into geometry, “a reflection of the forces that connect us, and remind us of the importance of creating, sharing, and repeating.”
- Bronson Farr, Photographer
For Bronson Farr, art is about making people feel seen. A photographer and director, his art resides in the sweet spot between beauty and discomfort, overlapping themes of vulnerability, power, and voyeurism. “People’s faces tell incredible stories when they’re being honest, even if it’s a bit scary,” Farr says. His work casts Black men in a gentle, intimate glow juxtaposed with a sense of reverence and longing. One photo depicts a man against a terracotta backdrop, his chest exposed, his view obstructed by buds of baby’s breath and a sheet of tulle that hides his face. It’s a playful subversion of stereotypes about Black masculinity, calling the viewer to see the softness and serenity in these boys. “My aim is to allow the viewer permission to see Black people, especially men, the way I do — wrapped in warmth, love, and light, and deserving of your protection.” Farr hopes his art takes people on a journey that acknowledges the experiences and feelings of someone who has “[gone] through some shit” but has found their happy ending.
- Eugenia Mello, Illustrator
When tapped to participate in the Atlantic Avenue terminal takeover, Brooklyn-based, Argentina-born illustrator Eugenia Mello sought to “translate music into shapes” and create a mural that vibrates so loud a viewer can feel it. She explores the relationship between emotion and the body through the use of bold primaries: Abstract shapes in deep primaries paint the scenes of a dance club alive with rhythm and heat. Her incorporation of contrasting colors and angular shapes adds depth to the image harkening back to a time before social distancing was the norm and when dancing in groups generated a feeling of electricity. Her work is heavily musical, pulling from an upbringing in South America and the Caribbean that was “bursting with energy.” She credits the grassroots spirit of the Venezuelan political climate of the early 2000s as helping her find her own artistic voice: “People would march, exercising their right of free speech by chanting and dancing with loud music,” she says. “Expression was with the whole body.”
- Eva Zar, Photographer
Eva Zar uses self-expression as a means of liberation. Raised within a traditional Russian-Austrian household, she uses photography to relay messages of empowerment and self-love. Focusing her lens on the beauty and sensuality of her subjects, her soft, almost retro depictions are subtly nonconformist. “A lot of my art speaks directly against the lessons and rules I grew up with,” she says. “I wanted to create art that shows different types of bodies and liberates women from the idea of only being a wife.” Her latest series exists at the intersection of music and performance, in one instance crafting an image of a dancer clad in black trainers and a neon tracksuit dancing on the stage at a Lynchian bar. Metallic decor and striking cateye eyeliner are reminiscent of the heightened glamour of the disco days. Often incorporating her friends as her muses, her vivid portraiture captures the strength of the LGBTQ+ community; it is a reminder that regardless of what is happening in the world, “our community gives us space for an inclusive and safe future.”
- Kervin Brisseaux, Illustrator
Three words come to mind in viewing illustrator Kervin Brisseaux’s vibrant digital drawings: rich, conversational, animated. With a background in architectural studies, bold graphics and crisp lines are at the forefront of Brisseaux’s work. Whether he’s fusing cultures and experimenting with characters and typography or scribing his own language into being, his work always has something to say. His art isn’t just about aesthetic pleasure, it’s also about cultural relevance and tapping into discussions that are happening each day. “I feel like it’s my responsibility to not only provide eye-candy but contribute to the relevant conversations of today,” he tells MTV News. The three works he displays at the Atlantic Avenue terminal — a standout piece emphasizing the intersection of culture, art, and identity through the use of contrasting browns and yellows, as well as tribal markings on the face of a sweating subject entranced and empowered by the music playing through their headphones — highlight his bold style, presenting subjects as warriors who champion individuality.
- Wael Morcos and Jon Key, Graphic Designers
Brooklyn-based illustrators and graphic design duo Wael Morcos and Jonathan Key of the studio Morcos Key consider their work autobiographical. “[It] delves into our personal histories about our families, where we come from, and our interaction with the world,” the pair tell MTV News in an email. One look at their bold illustrations and it is instantly evident that identity is at the core of their work. Whether they’re refashioning a smile using Arabic characters or playing with the adage of the eyes being the “windows of the soul” through collage, their lived experiences take center stage. Fusing narratives inspired by their roots in America’s deep South and the Middle East, their work is a testament to intersectionality and the notion that people are a collection of many facets housed in a body. Together, the two explore art through illustration and typographic design meant to uplift queer and diasporic identities, ultimately highlighting the importance of creating space for everyone.
- Zipeng Zhu, Illustrator and 3D Artist
Multimedia artist Zipeng Zhu is a self-described “creative octopus.” When asked what themes his work explores, Zhu tells MTV News he wants to “make everyday a razzle-dazzle musical.” He means that literally, considering that he has chromesthesia and associates color with music, which further contextualizes why his style is often characterized by a kaleidoscope of vibrant hues. Describing his work as “energetic and exuberant,” the world is Zhu’s muse. The child of Chinese immigrants, he uses color as a means of communication and a mode to “break the language barrier,” creating art that “speaks for itself.” His latest work is an intergalactic take on French impressionist painter Henri Matisse’s famed painting Dance I, taking viewers on a journey through space and giving them a chance to go “dancing in the galaxy.”
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