Charvis Harrell seizes Black autonomy amidst America’s white gaze

Charvis+Harrell%27s+art+went+on+display+at+the+McEachern+Art+Center+on+Aug+29.

Image: Ashley Pemberton

Charvis Harrell’s art went on display at the McEachern Art Center on Aug 29.

This story won Best of SNO Oct. 2, 2020.

Charvis Harrell has been showcasing the disparaging impact of negative Black stereotypes at his art exhibit, “Cartoon Violence: Elegy and Testimony,” at the McEachern Art Center since Aug. 29.

Harrell is a native of East Macon. He began painting in 2004 after he was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. His newest exhibit illuminates the disconnect between African American culture and self identity, and his work features Black public figures from across the decades.

Through his art, Harrell strives to dismantle the stereotypes that white North American media has placed on the Black individual and instead highlight Black culture and identity through Black people’s perspectives.

“I make art with the purpose of paying tribute to the often overlooked heroes and creating a dialogue in regards to the condition of being Black in America from historical, economic, psychological, social and commercial viewpoints,” Harrell said.

Part of his exhibit covers tragedies that have recently happened in the media, including the murders of Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain. His artwork captures the emotional pain, despair and sorrow that accompanies the Black criminality stereotype the media often puts on Black people.

Charvis Harrell’s art went on display at the McEachern Art Center on Aug 29. (Image: Ashley Pemberton)

“I felt it necessary to have a way to constantly express to my sons the struggle, beauty, pain, joy and complexity it is to be Black in America, and art is my tool for that,” Harrell said.

One of Harrell’s most prominent pieces depicts a Black child sitting next to an ink jar. The piece is titled “Surviving Flint” and is especially meaningful to Harrell.

“It’s important to me because it’s a series I made when I first decided to use pallets as a metaphor for Black life in America, and it represents a community of people who have been completely overlooked and neglected, and it’s beyond sad that in our country the entire city of Flint can be treated as unfit to be apart of America,” Harrell said.

There is a stark duality to Harrell’s work as he showcases a racially insensitive caricature of a Black child and then emphasizes Black autonomy and intelligence in the same piece. 

Harell also uses different mediums for his pieces. Some of his pieces are done on pristine canvases, while others are on rough, wooden pallets, continuing the juxtaposition of the white gaze in commercial media as opposed to the Black perspective on Black media. 

Harrell’s work encompasses the Black American identity, and his unique perspective on and interpretation of Black culture makes his pieces riveting works of art that capture the essence of Black American life.    

The “Cartoon Violence” exhibit will run at the McEachern Art Center until Oct. 16.