Senior art major Quinton Ward makes art to reflect on racial discrimination, police brutality and injustices in the St. Louis community. One of his new art pieces is about slavery. It is a piece of plaster molded in the form of his face with a slave iron bit covering the mouth. Slave masters used this bit, or muzzle, to silence their slaves. Ward’s grandmother Lottie Wade cannot bear to look at this particular piece. She said she froze the first time she saw it because of how real and raw it looked.
“It brought back memories in real time, real situations,” Wade said. “It wrapped me, and it took me back to a place I don’t want to be.”
Wade grew up in Mississippi and these images are imprinted in her memory. Wade said it is easy for Ward to make such art because he does not have the same emotional weight she does. She said Ward creates artwork based on research, readings and personal family history and experiences. She said Ward is able to communicate more universally with his art because he is not personally connected to slavery.
Ward said he creates a reaction in his work. A reaction to what had happened in the past and what happens now in society. His work is about self identity, racial identity, community and where those intertwine. His focus is the black experience because it is the experience he knows. It is his reality.
“Just being a black artist, I think for me at least, there’s a duty to talk about your experience,” Ward said. “I can’t just go out here making anything. I feel like I’m pulling from emotions and different things happening around me.”
The fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014 inspired protests, conversations and Ward’s six part series, “Who Will Stand With David?” Using the biblical characters of David and Goliath, Ward drew his personal reaction to Michael Brown’s shooting.
The cartoonish character David is standing on the sidewalk pointing at a “larger than life” faceless officer with combat boots. Police cars are on the officer’s side and helicopter lights are shining on David. Ward said in a way, David symbolizes him and those living under injustices.
“I could easily be David, any day of the week, 24/7,” Ward said. “I didn’t see David just for his innocence. I see David for his courage as well because even with the situation and how it transpires and climaxes, David took a stand.”
Ward chose the title of the series to end with a question mark because he did not want it to be a statement, rather a charge. He wanted the audience to think about how they can change their actions today to make a better community tomorrow.
His focus on community is what led the Arts and Education Council (A&E) in St. Louis to name Ward as the 2018 Katherine Dunham Fellow. Ward is the first black male ever to receive this fellowship.
Emily Hellmuth is the director of marketing and communications at A&E. She said a panel selects the fellow based on their fit with the program’s goals and criteria, including an interest in working for an arts or cultural organization. She said the recipient needs to express an interest in social justice and the arts’ ability to bring people together to solve community problems.
“Quinton was selected from an exceptional pool of applicants because he aligns with the goals of the program,” Hellmuth said. “He has a genuine interest in pursuing a career in the arts and addressing community issues through the arts.”
Ward said the fellowship is like a pipeline for African-Americans to start working in art organizations. Ward said the fellowship allows him to network with people in different roles and help him take the artwork outside the gallery and integrate it within the community.
“If we’re not being proactive within the communities that we’re in with the skills that we have, what is [art] doing?” Ward said. “Art is meant to inspire, art is meant to have dialogue and conversation. It’s meant to translate and transport, not just your thoughts but people and the way that they act.”
The entire “Who Will Stand With David?” series only has the characters of David and the cop, acting as Goliath. David is alone with no one on his side confronting the problems taking place. It moves from profiling and questioning and being searched to David running away from the cop’s grab. The characters, however, are faceless because Ward said the problem goes beyond race. He said it is a community issue.
“It’s interesting how the story began to break down these borders and ideas of race and began to really talk about the human experience and really touched on that level of empathy that we need to have,” Ward said.
Ward showcased “Who Will Stand With David?” at the SOHA studio and gallery. The most touching conversations he has about the series happen when the audience finds an emotional tie. He said people are drawn to the series not just because of the way the work is done but because of the truth it points out. Ward is creating a reaction, whether it is a positive or a negative one. He said people have to confront it and think about it.
The fellowship will give Ward a $3,000 stipend, and he plans on using it for art supplies for current and new projects. He is currently working on an illustration book for the “Who Will Stand With David?” series and hopes to have a short film about it in the coming two years.
Wade said Ward is a very perceptive young man who is always evolving. She said he is changing and growing every time she meets with him. Wade said the fellowship is an honor.
“I can’t wait to see where this will take him,” Wade said. “I’m speechless actually in the sense that you just give them wings, and he’s flying in a direction that we couldn’t have imagined.”