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Artist illustrates pain of black-on-black crime

Updated: September 19, 2013 9:37AM

There’s no difference between the gang members that terrorize black communities today and the Ku Klux Klan members that terrorized Southern blacks a century ago.

Both groups direct their hatred toward a particular group of people.

In the past, the KKK used deadly violence to intimidate blacks. Today, gang members are the ones using deadly force to gain dominance over other blacks in their neighborhoods.

When civil rights activists gather in Washington next weekend to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, many of them will recall the horrors that the KKK once inflicted on law-abiding black folks who just wanted to live in peace.

Yet, little is likely to be said about the black-on-black homicides that occur almost daily in urban areas.

Now, an artist from Dayton, Ohio, has dared create a series of images that provide a visual for the modern-day black KKK.

The exhibition, “Kin Killin’ Kin” is at the DuSable Museum through Nov. 20 and features powerful and disturbing images of gun violence in the African-American community.

“In conversation after conversation, I heard people say: ‘we put the KKK out of business,” artist James Pate told me in a telephone interview.

“I thought I would illustrate that sentiment. I thought it was an opportunity to introduce kids to what is actually happening when you kill your kin,” he continued.

“You are actually destroying the legacy that has been invested in your life. It is very rich, full of folklore and heroics. I wanted to present a real truth to kids that I would hope would make them pause and reflect and kind of realize exactly who you are and what to value about yourself.”

The provocative images are a departure from the exhibitions usually held at DuSable.

“Well, we think this is a teachable moment,” said the museum’s CEO Carol Adams.

“We have organized for particular groups to come in and see the exhibition . . . and not just groups that would normally come through and view it,” she said.

Those groups include the Department of Juvenile Justice, Department of Children and Family Services, and the Department of Probation and Parole.

“We want to really get to the people who need to be in this discussion to say this is how your community is seeing you,” Adams said.

“The community feels victimized and terrorized by you. Your community crosses the street when they see you coming instead of saying: ‘Wow. I feel safe. I see some brothers coming down the street.’”

“Kin Killin’ Kin” is so painful to look at because the images are so stark. There’s no one in the photograph to blame but the people who are holding the guns.

You cannot look at them without asking yourself: “How did it come to this? What can I do to turn it around? “

Willis Bing Davis, the exhibition curator and owner of EbonNia Gallery in Dayton, argues that everyone in the community has a role to play, including artists.

“I always felt that the artist can go beyond something you hang on the wall,” he said.

“All of us professionals should find some way to try to assist and try and enhance and save some of our young people.”

Pate works with charcoal to create illusion, shadow, and juxtaposition and uses symbols that are commonly found in black communities, like the cross, gold link chains and the jump rope.

One of the most difficult images for the artist was depicting the shooting of an innocent bystander.

“It really gripped me in terms of the blues,” he said. “I have a child swinging and a child jumping rope and I purposely split their image in half. I made one side faded to show their incomplete life.”

Early visitors to the exhibit were so moved, many of them wrote the names of a murdered loved ones on toe tags and hung them on the mesh fence.

So far, hundreds of toe tags have been left.

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The DuSable Museum of African American History is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and noon-5 p.m. on Sunday, when admission is free.


Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST

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