Artist Feature: Ervin A. Johnson
Editor Shenyah Webb, Art, April 12th, 2017
#InHonor is a call to consciousness, a contribution to the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
ERVIN A. JOHNSON: I began #InHonor as a personal response to the killings of Black people across America. To be completely honest the work was born out of guilt. All of my friends had rallied up in arms to march for Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner. I, on the other hand, was nowhere to be found. I felt guilty. I consider myself, for the most part, a conscious individual and so my silence became a burden. When the time came for me to be vocal with my peers I chose the path of cowardice. What real change would come of my presence as a young gay black man at a march in which half of my people don’t accept or acknowledge me? Still though I felt moved to do something. Whether or not I was accepted was something I had and will always deal with, I had to come to terms with that before anything else.
#InHonor is a series of photo-based mixed media portraits made to honor Blackness as it exists in its various forms. More specifically it speaks to the violence and destruction occurring across America, in the form of police brutality. The skin color is removed from each portrait and then aggressively renegotiated. Pigment stands in for an idea or preconceived notion about a particular type of human experience. That experience is culminated and summed up in a word; Black. Questions of tangibility and digital approximations of an entire race are raised. What does a digital approximation of skin color mean and what does it mean to physically remove it and reapply it? The faces are forever transformed, just as our world is with each loss of life.
The work continues today and will continue as long as lives are lost from racism and police brutality. I shoot in New York, Atlanta, and Chicago. I’m asking Black men and women to join me in protest. Contact me and join your voice with mine. Rest in power my fallen brothers and sisters.
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Ervin A. Johnson is currently exhibiting this series at Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, Oregon. The exhibition will go until April 30th. He is also concluding a fellowship in May, where he will be holding an opening reception on May 4th from 5 to 8pm at Gallery 19 in Chicago. The exhibition will feature the newest iterations of his work.
The following gallery is from both his collage and portrait series.
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Ervin A. Johnson was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. After graduating from the University of Illinois- Urbana Champaign with a bachelor’s in Rhetoric he began work on his second bachelor’s at Columbia College Chicago in Photography. Most recently he has completed his MFA in photography at Savannah College of Art and Design. Ervin utilizes photo-based mixed media to re-imagine his cultural and racial identity via photography and video. In his most recent body of work, #InHonor, Ervin pays homage to the lives lost to police brutality and racism. To help spread the message in his work the #InHonor movement, print a poster here.