The Arts Partnership explores a recent music video and local paintings as America marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
In black and white with the flash of static introducing a single figure walking down an empty street, a locally produced music video starts off with a spoken-word verse.
“To step in my shoes isn’t breaking down hieroglyphs,” Frederick Edwards says.
As the track continues, the camera cuts to clips introducing a wide-angle perspective on historic police brutality and organized racism. The meaning behind the title, “Don’t Look Back,” starts to become clear.
“We have come far, but as we see we have a long way to go,” says producer Paul (DonPaul) Shields, referencing the anger that swept across the nation over George Floyd’s 2020 killing in Minneapolis.
Inviting fellow creatives to collaborate on the video he had first envisioned a while ago, the final video, which was posted in late 2020, is part of a major project Shields was able to see through from conception to video production thanks to a grant from The Arts Partnership and Jade Presents.
“I’m all about just Black excellence,” says Shields, who works as music director at Fargo’s Latter Rain Ministries and is one of the six members at local band Heart & Soul.
“I think we get a negative portrayal of Black and brown people, minorities in America. I think I just want to be a role model for the next generation. Because honestly, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about,” the musician says.
As Shields produces songs for local musicians like Kwaician Traylor, who shot and edited the “Don’t Look Back Video,” he also works to keep his six children informed, especially leading up to Martin Luther King Jr. Day today and Black History Month in February.
“We sit down and we talk about, you know, how do the kids feel, what they know — we try to make them just more aware about facts,” says Shields.
Warning: this music video contains some graphic images.
Another artist responding to the tectonic shift in civil rights seen throughout the county is Franklin Ugochukwu.
“Now more than ever, with everything I’ve experienced, I want my art to represent my Blackness. Not just represent my Blackness, but also show people we are as great as we are,” says Ugochukwu.
Feeling boxed in by the widespread unrest and calls for action like so many people in America, Ugochukwu struggled to create art for many months throughout last year.
“There was a time when the pandemic just started where I was so messed up mentally that I was unable to paint — if I don’t have joy or I’m unhappy, then there’s not much motivation,” he says.
Coming to the U.S. for college in 2014, Ugochukwu was born and raised in Nigeria, West Africa, where his colorful surroundings and culture informed foundational art experiences.
“I’m different in the sense that I grew up in a society where a lot of social justice issues that are very dominant here — like racism — were nonexistent,” Ugochukwu says about his upbringing.
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“I didn’t grow up living or having those battles,” he says. “However, when I came to the U.S., it’s kind of like I had to inherit all that. I had to learn about, you know, the journey that minorities and African Americans have taken to be where they are now.”
With an eye for realism and focus on portraits of people, the artist also uses vibrant colors to depict the natural world and the struggle against illegal poaching of endangered species.
And as he continues to develop the techniques he learned at Moorhead State University Moorhead by teaching himself new skills online, he also uses his talents to highlight injustices, such as in depicting some of the Black lives that have been unfairly taken from the world.
“A lot of sacrifices were made for us to be able to do the things that we do today,” Ugochukwu says.
This article is part of a content partnership with the Fargo Forum and first appeared online on Monday, January 18, 2021,