This is a print I own of Evanston artist Fran Joy's "Black Angel."
I saw the original painting for the first time at Fran's exhibit at the Noyes Cultural Center in 2016. Once again, it seems an appropriate time to share it and my interview with Fran from back then.
Fran's description of the piece: "This angel represents the heartbreak, pain, and sadness of all the young Black men who have lost their lives to senseless violence. He cries blood tears. He is momentarily overcome with the grief of it before he moves on to do more work to try to save more young men. Gold represents value. Black represents devaluation in many societies. God sees value in all humankind, no matter the color."
Here's my interview with Fran.
"Black boys have a target on their back, from gangs, or extremists, or cops. And then they are killing each other. There's a devaluation of life in the Black community because of deeply systemic racism, the main stream media, film and tv, certain teachers and broken homes. If you don’t value your own life, you may not see the value in your fellow man." --Fran Joy
Fran was born in 1950 and was raised in a small town in Southern Illinois, and has also lived in New Orleans, LA and Chicago. She moved to Evanston in 1983.
Q: Tell me about your early years.
A: I grew up when segregation was a fact. We sat upstairs in movie theaters and drank from separate water fountains. But I graduated from high school in 1968 when James Brown was singing, “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud.” Our heroes then were the people who fought for freedom. MLK, Malcolm X, the Panthers. I was aware of racism and unapologetic about being black. I had an afro. I wore a dashiki and my first-born child has a Swahili name. Now I think our kids are more arrogant, but though they are arrogant, they don’t have pride because they don’t really know their history. Back then, there was also more of a feeling that whites were fighting alongside us. Now I think they are tired of us, and they think that we’re whining; complaining.
Q: What made you do this exhibit?
A: When Trayvon Martin was killed, it was right around my birthday, this time of year. It was such a travesty. He was unarmed. He got shot. His killer got off scott free. It stuck with me for a long time. And then there was another one. And another. Tamir Rice. He was a 12-year-old playing around. He got no justice. And his killer got off scott free. And we’ve all become so desensitized. I think many people have more compassion for animals than they do for young black men. Black boys have a target on their back, from gangs, or extremists, or cops. And then they are killing each other. There's a devaluation of life in the Black community because of deeply systemic racism, the main stream media, film and tv, certain teachers and broken homes. If you don’t value your own life, you may not see the value in your fellow man.
Q: If you could fix one thing that contributes to youth violence and street violence in Evanston, what would you fix?
A: Poverty. That causes so many of the rest of the problems. I also wish that the whole of Evanston would recognize that youth and street violence is everyone’s problem. It may be contained in a certain area now, but sooner or later it will get to everyone. It’s like a cancer. You can’t just ignore it or it will spread.
Q: What is the role of art in thinking about youth and street violence?
A: Art is extremely important. Nina Simone said, "You can't help it. An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times.” I wouldn’t feel right if I wasn’t addressing the things that are going on in the world. Art helps to make people aware, and to be touched, and feel compassion, and that can lead to people wanting to do something. To action and change.
Q: Tell me about the paintings of Maya Angelou, Malala and Mandela. Why did you include them in the exhibit?
A: Each of them experienced true trauma and overcame the greatest odds to become incredible leaders. Maya Angelou was raped as a child, which made her mute for many, many years. And then she became one of the most noted powerful poetic voices of our lifetime. Malala was shot in the head for wanting girls to be able to go to school. She survived and is now more a powerful activist than ever. And Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years for fighting apartheid and survived it to become the president of South Africa. So this is a message to the African American community that we can overcome our circumstances. As Nelson Mandela said, “It’s now in your hands.”