is a powerful and thought-provoking series of images that reflect artists James Pate’s deep love and even greater concern for the epidemic of youth violence in the African American community. If he were a singer, he would sing about it. If he were a dancer, he would dance about it. If her were a journalists, he would join the thousands who write about it. James Pate is a master visual artist who has directed his artistic vision to one of the most critical social ills of our time…youth violence.
Pate’s powerful images are visual call-to-action to find solutions to youth and gun violence in the community and created in hopes of engaging our youth and community in acknowledging that harsh reality of gun violence, and to dialogue positive alternatives and solutions towards negative behavior.
I started working on the “Kin Killin’ Kin” series in the year of 2000. In the middle of producing the first piece, I decided that as a personal private protest, I would continue to compose a rendering as long as these insidious acts continue. The concept of visually comparing Black on Black terrorism to Ku Klux Klan terrorism came directly from conversations among us in the Black community. It is often said that we [African Americans], in a “strange fruit” kind of way, are doing the business of the without Black-on-Black violence. So, I was moved to use art as a means to illustrate this sentiment, complete with brothers in pointed hoods in the ‘hood.’ Every piece that I complete is also my way of accepting responsibility as a member and team player in my community. Every piece is a moment of silence and dedication to all the people who have to deal with our losses.
In 2005, after a colleague viewed a few pieces from this series, he gave me a copy of an article that was written three years earlier by Hakim Hasan, director of the Urban Institute at Metropolitan College of New York. Published in Savoy magazine, the article was titled, “Hip Hop Lynching: The Thousands of Young Black Men Dying Each Year on the Street are This Century’s ‘Strange Fruit.’ This Time the Blood is on Our Hands.” Mr. Hasan wrote the piece after seeing the Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America exhibition at The Visitor’s Center at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, Georgia. The gruesome photographs and postcards on view depicted the mutilated remains of Black men, boys and women as well as White men. Lynching was a ritualistic public square violence, part of a sordid history of White criminality. In “Hellhounds,” an essay published in the exhibit’s commemorative volume, Without Sanctuary, historian Leon F. Litwack writes that “Between 1882 and 1968, an estimated 4,742 Blacks met their deaths at the hands of lynch mobs.”
Hakim Hasan stated, “As I studied the photograph of a Black man burned beyond recognition, I wondered what would be the response if this were a photographic exhibition of Black-on-Black homicide victims from Atlanta, Philadelphia, Detroit, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis, Newark and New York?” According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, from 1976 to 2000, 94 percent of Black homicide victims in America were killed by other Blacks. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention cites homicide as the leading cause of death for Black males between the ages of 15 and 34, with 4,412 such victims in 2000 alone, the number of Blacks murdered by other Blacks since reconstruction far exceeds those lynched by Whites.” Sadly, this pattern continued year after year, leading up to this present day in 2011.
The feeling of blueness is the true drive behind the discipline to produce these works. Like a bluesman, I’ve found myself strumming the medium instead of a guitar in order to compose an image that will help cure my sorrow. Part of my sorrow and frustration is due to all the abstract layers of blame that beyond my purview. I chose a representational format of imagery to help make the point as clear as possible to unveil an in-depth look at the end result of this elegy. I wanted the overall appearance of these pieces to look somewhat like oversized storyboard frames that were created from a movie script or screenplay. The surface needed to be embellished with metaphoric symbolism and precious innocent bystanders caught in the cross fire along with the perpetrators as victims themselves. I must depict how each episode of destruction is chipping away at a people’s essence, ancestry and heritage; a rich legacy of sacrifice, struggle, triumph, glory, positive influences on the world; and the entire groups’ future.
From the offset of describing my vision I felt a strong urge to juxtapose aesthetics, technique and craft to the unpleasantness of the subject matter. While relating this disappointment my secondary target is to entertain the spectator with basic elements and principles of design and illusion. This is achieved by introducing ideas of manipulating rhythm, shape, light, shadow and form in conjunction with weaving perspective and depth of field.
The entire focus of this series may shed the impression that I’m launching an assault on hip-hop and youthful behavior and activity in the last twenty-plus years. It’s difficult for me to conveniently judge these actions without feeling a sense of responsibility and a need to sift thought the menu of possible reason for the dysgenics. The assault is actually on whatever breeds dysfunction, on the germ and not the visible sore, and whatever turn of events that yielded this result.
I hope that troubled youth, young adults, drug traffickers and gang members will see these images and scenarios as a negative and not the model that will support their hopes aspirations and potential. This project is worth every stroke if one child can be moved to look forward to gaining skills that cannot only provide a means for healthy survival, but also self-expression. I placed historical imagery in some of the compositions with the hope that an adolescent will feel a real sense of their bloodline connection beyond their own parents and grandparents. As an artist, my fuel tank is always full just by realizing that I am a part of a lineage that designed and built ancient Egypt. If Jacob Lawrence can create a series of works depicting the south to north migration of the American Negro then I can chronicle this period in our history when “Kin Killed Kin.” There is no doubt in my hope that this wound will heal. But until that day, I will channel as much of my creative resources as I can for the purpose of influencing change. This series will live to remind me of a picture that began to fade prior to being restored. The images will warn and alert us to not repeat this history. As shameful as this topic may be, I need the imagery in these renderings to simply tell the children the truth.