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Derrick Adams’ artwork tells the stories of the African American urban experience

by Marra Green for Urban Mindz

Visual Artist Derrick Adams
Visual Artist Derrick Adams. Photog: Ray Llanos, courtesy of Derrick Adams

The thought of black art often evokes imagery of the struggle Black Americans have endured: slavery and the civil rights movement are common themes and pieces that often highlight the injustices of a racist society. While these works are necessary, equally important is the art that showcases the everyday life of the Black American. This work humanizes and normalizes the Black Experience and gives voice to those who are often ignored. Multidisciplinary artist Derrick Adams is one who highlights this everyday blackness while also recognizing the difficult past of blacks in America.

"Black White and Brown" Art Exhibit by Derrick Adams
"Black White and Brown" Art Exhibit by Derrick Adams

A graduate of Pratt Institute and Columbia University, the work of Derrick Adams ranges from collages, 2D and 3D pieces, and interactive art. Adams has stated, “Imagination is radical” and if this is so, Mr. Adams himself is revolutionary. His art has often used artifacts that some may see as painful historical relics to represent the power of black people to endure in a society that did not want to see them flourish. In his exhibit, “Future People”, Adams allows viewers to interact with his art, placing a pedestal in the center of the exhibit where one can fully absorb the show. Sitting in a chair reminiscent of a captain’s seat, the viewer sees the juxtaposition of black history in a futuristic setting.

"Future People" Exhibit by Derrick Adams

Rather than singular pieces, Derrick Adams creates experiences that tell a story. Onlookers may see quotes from prolific but oft forgotten black figures or a symbolic highway representing blacks seeking friendly faces while traveling during the Jim Crow Era as in his 2017 exhibit “Sanctuary.” The exhibit showcased the intricacies of black travel which was just one example of how Mr. Adams brings to light topics that are often not discussed in reference to the black and urban communities.

"Sanctuary" by Derrick Adams
"Sanctuary" by Derrick Adams. Photo Credit: Jenna Bascom, courtesy of Derrick Adams

In showcasing not only on the black struggle but the resilience, strength and ingenuity of a people, Derrick Adams gives the Black Experience and Black American Culture a clear and hopeful voice. Through his art, Derrick Adams shows that the Black American Experience is not singularly defined by struggle and pain: even in the most painful moments of our history, there are glimmers of hope.

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