Justin Garrett Moore on the Work of Artist Alteronce Gumby
The executive director of the New York City Public Design Commission reflects on how a painting forms a personal backdrop to the pandemic and this year's protests for racial justice.
When I turned 40, I acquired a painting by South Bronx, New York–based artist Alteronce Gumby titled Their Eyes Were Watching God. It references the novel of the same name by Harlem Renaissance author Zora Neale Hurston, which captures African-American life in segregated 1920s America and culminates in a social, environmental, and public health disaster.
Now, as I work from home, society faces a pandemic, protests, and poverty. On the wall of my Harlem apartment, Gumby’s painting has become a literal and figurative backdrop to my work on social and environmental equity. In Zoom meetings, people remark on its iridescence and curious patterns. Its shattered glass, grout, acrylic, and wood are materials latent with the subjectivity of broken-windows policing, embodied labor, energy, and carbon, and the effort it takes to make whole and beautiful something that is smashed, imperfect, and real. Online, people can’t see the painting’s blues lose color from certain perspectives—like a morpho butterfly—or that, as I work late into the night, it almost appears black, like me.
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