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Metropolis: A City In Black

Metropolis: A City In Black, by Cecil McDonald Jr., is a public installation in the historic bay windows of South Side Community Art Center.


South Side Community Art Center invites you to attend and celebrate the launch of Cecil McDonald’s public art installation, programmed alongside the final Bronzeville Art District Trolley Tour!
As a part of the Public Art & Civic Engagement Capacity Building Initiative, granted to the South Side Community Art Center from Mural Arts Institute, a program of Mural Arts Philadelphia, artist Cecil McDonald, Jr. has been commissioned to create a socially engaged public work of art. His project will feature images from SSCAC’s archives intertwined with portraits of Bronzeville community members to celebrate the dual histories and legacies.
Metropolis: A City In Black, by Cecil McDonald Jr., is a public viewing installation in the historic bay window of the venerable South Side Community Art Center. Over six months, McDonald traversed the streets, parks, beaches, porches, and neighborhoods in and around Bronzeville. Photographing friends, strangers, and passersby from a mobile studio, McDonald created both formal and candid portraits; the portraits, collaged with moving abstract imagery, create an odyssey of humanity infused with all the unique sensibility and tempo of black life in the metropolis.





Cecil McDonald, Jr. is interested in the intersections of masculinity, familial relationships and the artistic and intellectual pursuits of Black culture—particularly as it intersects and informs the larger culture. He investigates and questions the customs that govern our understanding of each other, our families and the myriad of our shared societal struggles and triumphs. He works to reveal the ordinary experiences, complexities and tenderness in relationships between Black people through photography, video, dance and performance.
“I am especially interested in the spaces free from the white gaze: the few places Black people feel comfortable being themselves. My work often highlights the culture—the art, music, and film—that Black people fill their homes and lives with. My art asserts the full humanity and rich culture of Black Americans.”


All images courtesy of artist Cecil McDonald, Jr.


Works in EMERGENCE are diverse in their subject matter and media, but a few themes reappear throughout. Working in abstraction or in the traditionally peaceful genre of still life, artists like William Carter, Allen Stringfellow, and Jonathan Green express themes of interiority or sociability, history or modernity. Notably, Stringfellow and Ralph Arnold both experimented with media and materials and worked extensively in collage, which allowed them to combine abstract design, figurative imagery, and on occasion political ideas.

Viewers typically expect Black artists to focus on particular aspects of their social and political identities within their work. Where might those expectations come from? Still life, abstraction, and collage may express many different things about artists’ interior lives and their visual and social observation, whether connected to public manifestations of identity or not.

William Carter’s mid-century still life Untitled presents a group of vibrantly colored bottles that invite the viewer’s gaze, set against a similarly colorful background with floral elements like grapes and leaves. They give evidence of conviviality and might be interpreted as symbols of social gatherings, but they could also just be a collection of pleasing forms. We might put Carter’s still life in dialogue with that of Jonathan Green, who became close friends with Carter while living in Chicago. Green’s close-up view of an eloquently simple composition presents oranges, a pear, and a lemon in front of two vessels. Works like this piece call the viewer to examine the objects the artist chose to include, to consider how they interact with each other like bodies in space, and to reflect on their meaning within the traditional genre of still life painting.

Collage might suggest the piecing together of identity from different components that might not usually coexist, giving room for more expansive imaginations of meaning than a straightforward representational image might allow. It could also just be an inventive way of combining colors, shapes, and textures. Allen Stringfellow’s Untitled, a collage from 1962, brings familiar motifs from still life—fruit and flowers, desserts and glassware—together with imagery of artist’s models and performers. Layered with paint and tissue paper that frustrate the viewer’s attempt to get clarity on the subject matter, the bursts of form and colors hint at the splashy abstraction of Stringfellow’s untitled, textured painting made from house paint and particulate on cardboard. Here the artist tests commonly found materials to create new textures and plays with the creation of colors and finishes that diverge from “Western” academic painting methods.

In The Waiting, Arnold constructs a large collage from different paper components, lace, and paint. In the piece, elements of European and African art are placed in dialogue with one another, while some figures appear alone and isolated, others in large groups. Without giving easy answers, Arnold implies questions about social issues. Who is waiting, and for what? In his Love Sign II, which bears the words “Love is Universal,” Arnold asserts the equal validity of all types of romantic affection and love, utilizing collage to convey a more straightforward political message.