Keith Mayerson


Malcolm X (after Eve Arnold)


I have painted several pictures of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and other civil rights leaders, and have always wanted to paint Malcolm X, and was so glad for the opportunity to finally create this. I'm proud that my cousin Wendy Wolf edited the Pulitzer Prize winning book Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable, and this is her favorite image of him, and I've been yearning to paint it, and now seemed the time with the divisive politics of our current politics, which at bottom, seem to be driven by race. The photo this image was based upon was by the great Eve Arnold, and I felt my job was to bring it further to life, if possible, and to make it in color in a painterly manner inspired by my subject. I like to get into the world of those that I paint by listening to audio that pertains most to my subjects and my state of mind, and it was a perfect blend to not only listen to his biography, but actual speeches he gave, which were incredibly compelling, of course, in addition to alternating this with the current news, listening to MSNBC, CNN, NPR and more Real News. It was incredibly bittersweet how still persistent and contemporary his speeches and conversations are to our present day, so many decades after, when I had hoped that we had progressed so much when in the Obama era. Coming from being a semiotics major at Brown, I was so intrigued by Malcolm X's redefining of culture via language, bringing about the agency of those he spoke to by deconstructing the subjugating language that created ideology that suppressed African Americans, much of the same language and thought that creeped back out of the shadows in the racist Trump era. Malcolm X, despite his extremely complicated politics, in the end, I think he came to a peace that approached Dr. King, but it was also his intense earlier politics that helped to mobilize those who felt that King's inspiration from Gandhi and his own religion was too passive. Although I don't agree with all of this, the intellectual vigor that Malcolm X, obviously a genius, brought to his own ideas, always challenging himself and his views, is inspirational. As a gay man, I also appreciate the news that Malcolm X had his own homoerotic history, but moreover, the train of his thought, how he spoke, and the power in what he proclaimed in his self-invention and it helped to motivate a world is sublime. This is the energy that for me at this moment is the antidote to the rampant normalization that this new regime is trying to manifest—making America "great" again by attempting the white supremacist notion of bringing back the 50's and all the social horror of what that can mean and their evil idiotic attempt to keep America white, straight, and male-dominated. Listening and thinking about Malcolm X seems like a super smart, almost for me punk rock cry of resistance of deconstruction to create a new world that more reflects the agency of a new great America where the "minority" is the "majority". Like the watch on his wrist, it's about time, and the ideas and being and pertinence of Malcolm X is immortal.