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Art Mon Jul 29 2013

"Kin Killin' Kin": The Other KKK

K,2Da K, 2 Da K, II.jpg

There is no escaping the news of the pervasive violence among African-American youth in cities across America--and looking no further than our own backyard right here in Chicago, it is practically an everyday headline. Despite many efforts that include camps, workshops, panel discussions, etc., which have been implemented to [try] to help understand and offer solutions for this epidemic, the cycle continues. And it is this same vicious cycle that led to "KKK-Kin Killin' Kin," Ohio-based artist James Pate's touring exhibit series that illustrates visual imagery and the effects of rampant violence.

For Pate, who will appear at the DuSable Museum later this week, the images were born out of necessity; however, for some black people, the illustrations evoke a sense of shame and embarrassment, adding more spotlight on the violence. "Somebody accused me of airing our dirty laundry," said Pate. "I'm not airing dirty laundry; this stuff is out here in plain sight. But I'm trying to go to the laundromat and clean this up."

Recently, I spoke with Pate about the series, how it got its name, and the importance of visual art as a means of communication to the masses.

How was the idea for this series conceived?

It was from being in a conversation with people in my community and more than one person has said, "Man, we are putting the Ku Klux Klan out of business because we're doing their 'business'." After hearing that repeatedly, I decided I would illustrate that sentiment and explore that whole notion. I thought maybe I would just go literal with it. As I began to get further and further into it, I started to realize just how much the situation had given me the blues and I found myself trying to ease those blues in the same way a blues artist would sing about his hardship.

Have you been personally or directly affected by youth violence?

I had a nephew that was gunned down in Cincinnati in 2011, 10 years after I started doing this series. He was at teen party and got caught in the crossfire. It was very devastating and the kinship that I feel and the love that I feel for my people is another reason why I decided to throw a tantrum through my artwork about this situation because I know how powerful illustrations are.

The acronym KKK, as you know, is accompanied by a lot of uncomfortable history; also, it is definitely an attention-grabber. How much of that was a factor when you named the series?

I'm not the actual author of that title. There is an MC in Cincinnati named B Rhymes and back in the day, I showed him 2 or 3 images and said, "It's like the KKK moving in." He said, "Oh, like 'kin killing kin,' huh." And I said, "That's it!" It was a perfect fit--it was one of those things that was a no-brainer. It just fit perfectly.

After the series was named, did you foresee any reactions to it?

Not so much. I was aware of it but it was something I wasn't going to be concerned with because the situation is what it is. It's extreme to me. I can't be extreme enough with the artwork. This is a deep felt blues and the pieces are produced to help organizations and individuals who are on the frontlines dealing with this. It is a visual piece to help state the case--to help argue why we've got to do something. I look at these guys as my sons, my brothers, my nephews, my cousins and I'm saying, "You're acting like the KKK; do you know what they did? If you don't, let me break it down for you." I had to use this as a metaphor because it's so ironic and direct and it also speaks to what is happening today.

When I first came across your work, with drawings of young black men in white, pointed hoods, I immediately wanted to know more. What kind of comments have you heard about the series?

Generally it's been a lot of positive praise. They're glad I did it. [They say] "This is helping me break things down to my sons," or "My brother is locked up and he needs to see this," etc. It's been positive--it's almost like people look at it and say, "This is what I couldn't think to say."

Your History II.jpg

How many drawings comprise the series? Will there be more?

That's a good question. I was just gonna continue to do them as long as the rate of it [violence] continued. As long as all these different situations continue I'm going to express myself and communicate visually through my artwork. I'm not the best oral communicator so I need art to help me speak and say things that I may not be able to articulate.

In your artist's statement, you mentioned that "Kin Killin' Kin" began as a "personal, private protest." When did you decide to bring the protest to the public?

I wasn't even really thinking of exhibiting these pieces; I was just doing them for my own blues. I had been producing them since 2000 and I didn't press a gallery to show them. I didn't peddle them around to a museum or an art center--I might've shown one or two at a time, but I didn't push it. I showed them to Bing Davis and he said, "Let's do an exhibit." It's actually 12 pieces and I have an additional painting and I've already finished up a couple of drawings and a lot of sketches.

You're heavily involved with students in the public school system in Ohio--what has been their reaction to "KKK?"

They definitely appreciate it; at that age group, (middle school and high school) they're enlightened. When the exhibit was first mounted at Bing Davis' gallery, it was up for like, 8 months; practically every school district in the area came to see it. And we had roundtable discussions and we talked and we gutted it all out--the students shed tears and shared stories. And on top of that, they saw the importance of gaining a skill: The message is one thing, and the execution of the technique, composition, and all the art stuff, was another thing, but they were like, "Okay, this took some skills." It dawned on them that they really need to get skilled at something. Skills bring you meals--it's really as simple as that.

The series' subtitle is "The Arts as an Agent of Change." How do you think the arts can be used in this way?

There is a whole lot of truth in it; like we say, "It takes a village." Sometimes, it takes artists, writers, poets, musicians, dancers, or vocalists to say, "What's going on?" That's what art can do. Artists have done things that have changed people's minds, hearts, and souls, especially visual art, music, and the literary arts.

You began the series over a decade ago; since then, youth violence, and the media coverage of it, has drastically increased. What are your thoughts now?

I hoped that it would decrease. I was hoping that the pieces [in "KKK"] wouldn't even be relevant--that they would end up being something that represented something in the past. I was hoping that they would still be significant in terms of what was dark in our past and history and that we didn't want this to happen again.

What do you want people to take away from "Kin Killin' Kin?"

I want them to pause and reflect and dig a little deeper--and take a look at the destruction that the violence is actually causing. I want them to walk away with a realization of how it weakens our structure as a community. But really, I just want them to at least pause and reflect...


Artist James Pate, along with "Kin Killin' Kin" curator, Willis "Bing" Davis, will hold a gallery discussion about the series and the youth violence epidemic Thursday, Aug. 1 at the DuSable Museum of African-American History, 740 E. 56th Pl., from 6:30pm-9pm. This event is free and open to the public; for more information, call 773-947-0600-x254.

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LT / July 30, 2013 9:38 AM

This is a powerful piece. Great art tells you a story and makes you feel something. These are challenging times we live in and I hope to see more expressions of the challenges facing our society.

LaShawn Williams / July 30, 2013 1:01 PM

I fully agree, LT. Thank you for reading.

Jimmy L. Shirley Jr. / May 19, 2015 1:32 PM

Here is what I think.
In the spirit of doublemindedness, on the left hand, the work is needed to make Coloured people, or People of Colour, to see what they are doing to themselves. Making a hollow noise when making "claims" that "Black Lives Matter".
While on the right hand, were this very selfsame imagery to be presented by an equally talented White artist with similar social justice views would be branded with the 'R' word forthwith.
I have been saying for years Coloured People need to clean up their act. The only platform one can speak on issues of morality are from the high road. And until they can bring down their Black-on-Black homicide rates to less than 1/10th of what they are now, they dont have much of a right to complain of these issues, like Cop-killings, even though the statistics clearly show cops kill more Whites than Blacks.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

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