‘It's Tough as a Human Not To Be Impacted' – Artist Talks Social Justice, Influence on Recent Work

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Before every finished product, there’s a process. Behind every person, there’s always a story. Somewhere along the way, what comes naturally will surface. For Jeremy Biggers, it was art. Born and raised in South Dallas, Biggers realized art was a viable career choice as a student at Booker T. Washington High School.

“It was just something I fell in love with immediately,” said Biggers. “I enjoyed the process, but I enjoyed people’s response to it.”

Years later, it’s still the response that motivates him. As for what inspires him, it’s the expression.

“I just want to create conversation,” he said. “Being a painter and a creator, it’s all about telling stories.”

Other people’s stories often find their way into his art, even if those stories involve suffering.

“It’s tough as a human not to be impacted by the things that are happening right now. So of course, as someone who is a practicing artist, that’s going to work its way into the work,” said Biggers.

But COVID-19 came. Then there was the death of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The protests followed and it was almost too heavy.

“From March until July I didn’t create a single thing because it was just too overwhelming to figure out a way to incorporate that into the work without it just being super painful to get through,” he said.

When Black Panther star, Chadwick Boseman died, the paint made its way back into his hand.

“A friend of mine and I, we both are huge comic book fans. That movie was super impactful for the culture,” said Biggers. “We came out the very next we heard of his passing.”

From there, other pieces followed. He did a piece called ‘Turn the Other Cheek’ – he said it’s a presentation of the grace often expected of Black people even in the face of injustice. He also completed a painting of James Baldwin, a Black essayist, novelist and activist.

“Whether it’s a physical representation within the work, or if it’s just the mindset while I’m creating the work, it’s absolutely a part of what ends of becoming the piece,” Biggers said.

Biggers often feels tension – the struggle between wanting to respond to current events and protecting his own emotional wellbeing. He said he’s constantly striving to express the full range if his experience as a Black man, not just a singular aspect.

“A lot of times there’s that pressure to feel like you have to create something that’s important culturally,” he said. “Black people are not a monolith. You want to tell stories of black joy as well.”

When he feels it and the time is right, the work flows. While speaking with us on a cool Friday morning, Biggers worked on a free, temporary mural on the west side of Dallas.

It was a nod to the 1968 Olympics when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised gloved fists during the U.S. national anthem.

“It’s always been a powerful image that I’ve always loved. There are a lot of parallels of things that happened in 1968 that are happening this same year as well,” he said.

Like the Black experience, Biggers said Black art and artists are not monoliths. There’s depth to the stories. So, when you see his work, you see many facets of humanity.

“Whether you love my work, whether you hate my work, as a long as you have an emotional reaction, I’ve done my job,” he said. “If you walk away with apathy, if you walk away not feeling anything, then that piece failed for me.”

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