Malcolm X is an electrifying historical figure for whom I have a deep affinity for because of his significance in the civil rights movement. For me, his image represents an iconic person that commands people to elevate their self esteem and challenge the status quo. He was born with the name Malcolm Little on May 19th, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. Malcolm X’s father was a minister that advocated for Marcus Garvey’s Back To Africa Movement, which lead to death threats against his family, which caused them to move several times. In 1929 their home was set on fire and two years later his father was found dead and later his mother was sent to an insane asylum causing her eight children to be sent to foster care. Malcolm X wanted to be a lawyer but in school his teacher told him that niggers don’t get to be lawyers and that his goals were unrealistic. Malcolm dropped out of school and moved to Boston. In a sense, America created Malcolm. He started a career as a pimp, gambler and drug dealer. The profile view of Malcolm X that I used as a reference photo for this artwork comes from a mugshot photo from his arrest in 1946 for burglary when he was 20 years old. He was sentenced to ten years in prison where he read everything he could get his hands on, including Elijah Muhammad’s teachings and he learned about the Nation Of Islam.
Malcolm dropped his slave name ‘Little’ and began using X in its place to represent his lost tribal name. Malcolm X was released on parole in 1952 and dedicated himself to the Nation Of Islam. He was a very charismatic and talented speaker that was able to convey the teachings of Elijah Muhammad to the masses. During this time, membership increased from 500 members to 30,000. Malcolm preached a creative black superiority and that blacks controlled theirselves. Malcolm X encouraged black people to use militant self defence. Although he never participated in violence he encouraged any means necessary for protection and he did not believe in the the nonviolent movement. In 1964 Malcolm X renounced Elijah Muhammad after learning that he fathered several children from different women and that he used his power to manipulate these women. He took a pilgrimage to the Holy Land of Mecca in Saudi Arabia and founded a new organization for Afro American unity. He renamed himself Al Hajj Malik Shabazz. He was seen as a threat to the Nation of Islam. On February 21st, 1965 while preparing for a presentation in New York, three gunmen shot him 15 times at close range. In his 39 years, Malcolm was constantly reinventing himself. By the end of his life he was speaking to all races, not just about civil right but human rights.
This inkjet print of Malcolm X comes from a series of drawings using famous mugshots of celebrities and iconic figures as reference photos. The medium from the original artwork is sharpie paint markers on computer paper. I enjoyed how the markers allowed me to experiment with bright and vibrant drips and splashes of color. I drew a spikes on Malcolm’s head to represent a crown of thorns, similar to the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head in the Christian religion. The style can be categorized as Neo-Expressionism because I was able to translate aggressive emotions and vivid colors into an arresting painting. The symbolism behind the blue racoon-like eyes in this illustration reminds me of Malcolm’s vision, curiosity and adaptability. The painting is layered: first squiggly lines and meditative dots were rendered with thin micron pens, then the paint markers were laid down and finally the top layer has pieces of gold leaf glued to the surface of the portrait in a seemingly random manner. Stylistically my goal was to characterize Malcolm in an abstract manner because this allowed me freedom to experiment with materials and with the physical act of impulsive mark making itself. Instead of painting Malcolm X as I see him in space, I turned inward to draw based on my own physiological impulses. I wanted to express my own spiritual and emotional world using suggestive colors, shapes and lines.