Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces

*George Jackson and St. Joan of Arc*

Randy Williams. George Jackson and St. Joan of Arc. 1984 374

Wood, metal, acrylic paint, plexiglass, paper, Polaroids, book cover, toy guns, straight razor, pattern paper, and black cheese cloth, 24 × 36 × 5 in. (61 × 91.4 × 12.7 cm). Collection of the artist

Artist, Randy Williams: I’m Randy Williams, an artist, a teacher, a father, and a grandfather, and always and forever committed to Linda Bryant and Just Above Midtown.

My father was in a card game in the Bronx and he was killed. He was shot. And I had two sons and the idea of playing with guns became something that I started to think about. When I went back and looked at this work, I was absolutely shocked by the rawness of it.

Curator, Thomas (T.) Jean Lax: Part of this rawness comes from the work’s reference to a history of violence against Black people. In the upper left, a small watercolor depicts a lynching scene. Moving outward, we see other details such as a toy gun, a folding razor, and a photograph of the activist George Jackson, who was murdered by the state during a prison uprising in 1971.

Randy Williams: I wanted to make art that was a little more confronting. I think JAM is what allowed for a lot of us to go on and do these really experimental, exciting things.

The gallery was not simply a repository for work to be placed on the walls. You could meet up with people and you could talk about concepts and ideas, and then you could go back to your studio and you could play with them.

We still were struggling with the concept of identity. Like, who are we? Who are we in this country? We’ve been excluded, how can we strengthen our voice? What is ours to use and to make art out of? And I think a lot of the conversations fostered the collaboration.

I had never worked with other artists of color. I could never really talk about the things that were really important to me as a young Black man. And JAM really opened up all those possibilities for me as an artist.

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