Black internet memes have developed a life of their own, and as Afro-surrealist artist Alim Smith, 31, says, popular Black memes embody unspoken language the Black community can easily understand. “Somebody outside the culture could see these same pictures and just see pictures, but we can tell a whole story with that stuff, and it’s deep,” Smith said.
The Wilmington, Delaware, artist took popular Black memes from the digital space to the canvas. “I look at it as modern-day hieroglyphs and emojis. You can use all of these pictures to describe a whole story without saying one word. I feel like it’s an ancient thing that we understand you don’t have to talk to talk. It’s like a double language, it’s like a hidden language,” he said.
Smith has been involved with the arts since he was 12 years old, when he developed a love for drawing cartoons, but while in art school in Delaware he had to adjust to a more Eurocentric style of art, at least for a brief period of time. “We couldn’t draw any cartoons, and the first five years we couldn’t use any color, and everything was super realism and everything black and white, pencils and charcoal,” he said.
Leading up to President Obama’s inauguration, Smith and his friend Michael Silva drew a picture of the 44th president and printed 10,000 copies to sell in barbershops, restaurants, and churches.
They attended Obama’s historic first inauguration and brought along their stack of Obama pictures, and, at $10 dollars apiece, Smith estimates they made at least $50,000. More important, Smith learned from that experience exactly where he wanted to take his art and use it to speak to the Black community. “That’s what started me into drawing Black people specifically and selling artwork,” he said.
Since then, Smith has used his art to reflect important issues within the Black community including a painting inspired by the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, depicting a faceless white police officer pointing a gun at a Black baby on the ground crawling between the officer’s legs.
Read full story at Atlanta Black Star here.