The Arts Council of Princeton, in collaboration with the Princeton University Art Museum, will present artist Mario Moore In Conversation with James Steward, museum director, on Tuesday, July 7 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. To register for this free conversation, click here!
Mario Moore’s life echoes many of the key principals found at the Arts Council of Princeton, from our mission of ‘building community through the arts’, to the importance of early arts education, to the role art plays in the healing process.
Guests of the Princeton University Art Museum will be familiar with Mario Moore for his extraordinary exhibition “The Work of Several Lifetimes,” – large-scale paintings, etchings and drawings of Black men and women who work at or around the Princeton University campus in blue-collar jobs that he created while a 2018-19 Hodder Fellow, at the Lewis Center for the Arts. Five of his oil portraits from this series are now part of the University’s permanent collection.
Art has always been a presence in Moore’s life. “Because my mother is an artist, that perspective shaped my life,” he says. “I was around museums all the time, thank GOD for her because I was also at a public school in Detroit and when faced with financial trouble, art is the first program to be eliminated. So when my art classes were cut, I always had my mom and her creative community. It was so important — it allowed me to look at things in a different way than other kids. I was drawing from live models at the age of 5.” Moore remembers while in elementary school, an art teacher gave him an art book. “It had tons of images of painting and artists I didn’t know before then, but the important thing was that the book was mine.”
In 2018, Moore had a solo exhibition “Recovery” which documented his recovery from trauma and brain surgery. Presented at a gallery in his hometown of Detroit, the work explored themes surrounding the treatment of Black male bodies in America, in art and medicine.
“I think it was a matter of what I was recovering from,” he said in an interview with AFROPUNK. “Not just from brain surgery, but the psychological effect of watching and reading about the constant killing of Black men at the hands of police officers.”
Moore explains “…art can be a source of reverence as well as dealing with heavy issues that are around you. It can be a place of healing and also a release from stress. Being able to create has allowed me to heal in many ways. After my brain surgery, it gave me a space to consider what just happened to me. What trauma did my body just go through and how could I continue to heal? Those were the questions that my work created during that time and it allowed me to slow down and really consider how to deal with it.”
Mario Moore on the role art play in addressing racism, social justice, and police brutality:
“This is something that art has always done. Whether it has been used by the oppressed or the oppressor. If we consider Darwinism, scientists wanted to support their racist theories by comparing, through drawings, the development of the human. From lowest to highest forms of a homosapien, always ending with the Greek at the top. That was supported by a visual representation to support racist ideologies. Or we can look at European paintings around this same time and see black figures serving white figures in the foreground. These are all visual references to ideas, not facts. Before these ideas that supported the beliefs behind Africans being seen as a lower human form, race did not determine a difference in intellect or a different type of species. You can see paintings by Rubens, Rembrandt and Velazquez with sole Black figures shown with dignity and humanity. Contemporary artists now deal with all that history and what is happening today to talk about social justice, police brutality while also considering the historical references and pushing artistic form.”
What are some things that you are enjoying during quarantine?
“The biggest thing I am enjoying is talking to and spending time with family. Also just the ability to sit still.”
What is the first thing that you want to do when it’s safe to gather again?
“Go to a museum.”
What books are on your nightstand? What music are you listening to?
“Right now I am reading Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, by David Blight. I have several art books that I always open up and go back to. Anything with Velazquez. I am a big Motown guy. I love listening to old school music and I often listen to it in the studio while I work but I also like Kendrick Lamar and things that get me moving.”
Who is a person that is meaningful to you?
“Malcolm X and his speeches. I can listen to him over and over again, especially after he parted with the nation and find wisdom, truth and relevance to what is going on right now.”
To learn more about Mario and his work, visit: mariomoorestudio.com.
Photo: Hope L. VanCleaf