In a portrait that depicts what appears to be a blond man painting over some of America’s most infamous and historic black figures like Martin Luther king Jr., Harriet Tubman and Malcom X, with white paint, has gone viral on social media. Johnathan Harris, is the name of this viral artist who painted this compelling piece and who is from right here in Detroit. Critical Race Theory (2021) has been widely shared on social media as a powerful reminder of the importance of teaching and preserving Black history.
Since fully committing to painting about two years ago, Harris has been creating work that expresses his experience as a Black individual in the United States. Since the 1970s, critical race theory has been circulating in academic circles. It examines how racism is woven into our nation’s legal systems and policies, however the teachings made headlines last year, particularly in conservative media, as some local lawmakers sought to ban it due to its controversial nature. Harris released a statement to Artnet News saying, “I was hearing Black people questioning if our history was going to be in jeopardy. We only know what we are taught. My mind went to, ‘how far can this actually go?’” This then inspired him to paint a picture depicting three of the most famous advocates for Black American rights, their contributions to the nation’s history and what it looks like to have all that erased and whitewashed along with the inherent ugliness of our history of slavery, oppression, and structural racism.
The piece was first exhibited at Detroit’s Irwin House Gallery in November in a three-artist show, where it sold to a private collector on opening day for an undisclosed sum. Although the show closed on November 20, the journey of the painting was only beginning. Within two days, the political activist group “The Other 98%” shared the image on its 6.5 million followers Facebook page. Harris was intrigued and overwhelmed by the comments and response to his painting. Harris said, “It’s just really unbelievable to see that piece touched so many people. I’ve sold over 1,000 prints all over the world, to countries I’ve never heard of.” Detroit, what do you think about Harris Critical race Theory painting?