Belizean artist Hubert Neal Jr, now living in the United States, is perhaps best known for his work The Dudus Chronicles, inspired by the Christopher Dudus Coke saga and the declaration of state of emergency which took place during his Jamaican residency.
The artist-activist is now in Kochi as part of Palette People Artists Residency, Vagamon, and has completed a new set of works, ‘Black and Blue: The Police and Black America’.
“In the US, police killing unarmed black people has reached such epidemic proportions in the recent years that I felt I had to address the subject. This is a work I could have done anywhere, including at home.”
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“But I wanted to work in a challenging environment. This meant getting away as far from home as possible. I considered Europe and India. Since my great-grandmother was from India, I thought it would be a great opportunity to trace her roots and get to know my ancestry a little better. Her second name was Sankar. She had come to Belize, where my family was based, and got married. I’m still trying to find some connection that will help me know more about her and her family,” says Hubert Neal Jr. ‘Black and Blue: The Police and Black America’ is inspired by various specific cases of police brutality against Blacks in America. Apart from the series, Hubert Neal also worked on some landscapes during his time at the residency.
Interestingly, the artist, in his online travel diary, An artist and his travels, talks about how walking down a foreign country, India, in search of good restaurants felt more safe than walking down his own country.
“As a Black, I have a very different view of things. Back home, sometimes women clutch their purses when they see you approaching. Sometimes they cross the street. I live in South Beach in Miami Beach, a predominantly White area. One day as I walked down the street, police officers stopped me and asked me for my ID. Apparently, somebody had complained about a suspicious character lurking in the neighbourhood. I lived in the place! Do you see what I mean? So once in India, I had the general apprehension of being in a new country, but I also started thinking, ‘what if someone thinks I’m looking at their girl?’, ‘What if someone perceives me as a threat?’ I became aware of how defensively I live. This is despite people being very friendly and helpful here. It’s particularly difficult to explain because I’m 6 feet 7 inches and wherever I go, people ask me if I’m a basketball player because of my size! People don’t understand how such a huge man can feel scared. But you hear so many instances of Blacks being shot down for perceived threat and you wonder how you made it to your 30s when you know so many people who got killed,” he explains.
Drawing parallels between Belize and Kerala, he adds, “Kerala looks very similar to Belize and Caribbean Islands in terms of structures of the houses and roads. But it’s very different in terms of culture from America. This might be especially so because I lived in the mountains during the residency here. People would hear that an American artist was working in the studio and come knocking to meet me. Seeing people take the effort to get to know someone was something new. In America, people just mind their business and take a lot of time to get accustomed. Similarly, a few people were singing and dancing in the next yard one night and the next morning they came to meet me at the studio and asked me why I didn’t join them? I was surprised because in America, you don’t join a party unless you are invited and you never assume that you are welcome there otherwise. I explained and they ended up apologising to me for not having invited me! So that way, it was a warm experience.”
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