Powering through the pain while finding his passion
*All artwork completed by Charvis Harrell*
Tell us about the moment you fell in love with art and why?
I worked construction until I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease in 2004, which lead to depression and alcoholism. It took a long time, but I learned to make art my purpose in life. The way your life changes when you lose the ability to physically carry out the career you've focused on can lead to chaos. So, I volunteered at the Tubman Museum in Macon, Georgia for years. When I first started volunteering, I was arrogant and I had no true appreciation for art. After volunteering there for a few years I learned to love art and my history and culture in a way that words fail me, so I create art to express it.
How does your artwork provide equity to those often overlooked?
Most people who are the true catalyst for a movement never get their credit, and one example is Claudette Colvin a 15-year-old pregnant child in Alabama. She refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus 9 months before Rosa Parks, but nobody helped her out. She was brave enough to do this all alone as a child, but she will never get the credit she deserved. So, I decided to paint her picture on top of some vintage Supergirl comic books to superimpose my Black heroin into a superhero story that didn't have any Black people.
Eugene Bullard is another example of someone with tremendous courage whose life story sounds so unbelievable that when people read his manuscript it sounds like a tall tale. He was born in Georgia. He stowed away to Scotland, boxed in Europe, joined the legions in France, became highly decorated, became an aviator, flew in missions in WW1, but was brutally beat by police in America and lived unknown and uncelebrated. For one man to do so much and to be such a heroic figure it seems the only reason he wouldn't be celebrated in America is the same reason he was beat in America because he was black, so for me it's important that he is celebrated.
What do you hope to portray through your artwork?
One of my main functions is to bring recognition to people who have sacrificed but have yet to receive due respect. I hope to bring a better understanding of the story of the descendants of Africans in the Americas. When people see my work, I hope they see a form of Blackness that is the opposite of what has been marketed toward them. Yet some of my artwork that you will see shows how the stereotypical examples of Blackness came to resonate across generations and hopefully teach other races how to think about Black people. I hope the images push people to have the important conversations that are necessary to insight change. Although much of my art is uncomfortable, I hope viewers will be forced to ask uncomfortable questions to learn how others truly feel and what they must really deal with.
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