Picture Perfect

A daughter of the Black Arts Movement's journey into Hot Ghetto Mess.

My dad, artist Jeff Donaldson and me.
My dad, artist Jeff Donaldson and me.
Victory in the Valley of Esu, 1971; Jeff R. Donaldson

At first glance, my dad and I couldn’t seem more different. And frankly, it wasn’t until I became a “controversial figure” (whatever the hell that means) in my own community that I realized just how alike my father and I truly are.

Dad told me how as a young man, he grew frustrated by constantly seeing artists depict black people as sad, forlorn, poverty-stricken, grim and solemn. Born in 1932, he lived in a time when blacks had little control over our images in popular culture. He aimed to visually transcend the limitations placed on our people by racism and Jim Crow. He felt that much of the art of the early and mid-20th century focused on the struggle of black life rather than on the resilience of our spirit. He wanted the world to understand and appreciate that side of us. So that is what he painted.

By illustrating an inspiring, prideful black experience, my father presented an alternative image that was not depicted in the media. When mainstream opportunities for blacks to define themselves were nonexistent, he painted another reality into existence.

Where my dad sought to create positive images, I seek to denigrate negative images. For the last 20 years, I have seen our precious black image bastardized, monetized and then arrogantly sold back to us as “culture.” The positive imagery our elders fought so hard to cultivate and preserve has been replaced, with scarcely a second thought, by hos and thugs. And not only have we failed to reject these images as dysfunctional and dangerous, but we continue to participate in their perpetuation. Frankly, this pisses me off.

As the daughter of an artist, I have been an avid student of black imagery for as long as I can remember. However, I don’t use paint and brushes; my easel, in recent years, is the Internet. My pictures and my words are my art, all pleading with my community to take a look in the mirror and challenge what you see, change what you see. Yes, my methods are controversial; I’m a smartass, and my style can be a bit much for some. Like my father, I am an acquired taste. But, like my father, I love my people.


Donaldson’s Web site, www.hotghettomess.com

Dad was a revolutionary. It is from his strength that I gained the courage of my convictions and the balls to say what so many won’t. He is my hero (albeit a hero who refused to buy me name brands and made me get off the phone by 8 p.m. But I’m over that. Really.). At first glance, we are an odd couple, my dad and me, but just like the dots in a Seurat painting, when you see the whole picture, it makes perfect sense.

Besides, who do you think came up with the name of my Web site? 😉

Happy Father’s Day.