Mobile assignment: “My America” exhibit explores artist and community identity

Ron Thompson looked to his childhood for inspiration for his “My America” exhibit.

The exhibit which runs from Oct. 28 to Nov. 8 at the George Caleb Bingham Gallery features seven large paint and graffiti covered paintings depicting black TV icons from the ’80s like Michael Jordan and Bill Cosby who challenged traditional depictions of African-Americans in media.

“I wanted to talk about my community, where I was from, my family,” Thompson said. “That kind of grew more into the general black community. I kind of used my own personal life to relate to a broader idea of what it means to be black in America.”

Thompson’s said his inspiration for the exhibit came from an undergraduate professor John Biggers. Biggers, who taught Thompson at Lincoln University, wrote a book called “My America” exploring African-American life in the 1940s.

“His America looks totally different then mine,” Thompson said. “I wanted to put a spin on ‘My America.'”

Thompson also looked to W.E.B. Du Bois’ concept of double consciousness. Bois came up with the term to capture the struggle of confusion, anger and torment he went through in coming to terms with his identity as an African-American, Thompson said.

Thompson said he uses the idea of double consciousness in his work. A piece depicting an alter ego of a positive view of self hangs across from a piece thy represents a more tormented view of self.

This search for identity is universal, Thompson said.

“We’re all struggling to find this place in life of who you are,” Thompson said.

Thompson said he feels the exhibit has already brought people together. The opening exhibit reception drew a large crowd, and Thompson hired a DJ to create a fun environment.

“It didn’t matter what race you were,” Thompson said. “People were just being happy. That’s what I really wanted, is to bring a sense of community to the work, and I think I achieved that.”

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