On Sunday, April 18th, Michael Coppage and a team of friends and collaborators, installed a wheat pasted mural in the alleyway of 21c Cincinnati based on the photographic images he took as part of his ongoing project, Black Box. Each of the thirteen portraits are photographs of Black men each wearing a shirt with different nouns, all of which are preceded by the word BLACK. All of the words—black ice, black cloud, black sheep, blacklist, black magic, etc.—have negative connotations, revealing how in America, from a very young age, we are enculturated to believe that black most often implies “bad”. In a previous activation, these men in the photographs participated in one-on-on conversations with Cincinnati community members where they discussed the words on their shirts in an effort to demystify and rehumanize black men where participants could outweigh what they have “learned” during the enculturation process. The artist explains that by making people more aware of how we use and view colors we become more educated and aware of the social impact of those engrained biases.
How are you feeling today?
Today I feel energized and motivated. I have lots of projects in the works at varying stages and I can’t stop thinking about them. It’s a healthy stress.
How are you feeling this week? This new year?
I finally finished a month long move into a new home and a new studio space. I was worried about not being actively productive but I appreciated having time to rest my brain and research. I got to flesh out other ideas and meet with potential collaborators. I sat in on lots of virtual calls and met folks I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. I was very intentional and just as productive as any activity I might have engaged in.
What are you looking forward to doing this year in your art practice?
I’m looking forward to finding regional and national partners who will host all or part of my Black Box project. I’ve reached out to about 20 potential partners and I’ve gotten a few “no’s” so far. I’ve elected this the year of discomfort. I’m declining opportunities and partnerships that come too easily and do not promote growth and improvement in the quality/messaging of my work. This year, the concept is driving creation and I’m working in areas where I have no formal training like photo, documentary, serigraphy, music, and temporary outdoor installation work that decomposes over time. Collaboration is going to be key to the success of these projects and I look forward to the challenge of the journey.
Do you have any #protips or things you have learned in the past year that you would like to share with fellow artists?
I think its key to have a virtual presence. We have much more access to curators, critics, writers, organizations and institutions than we’ve ever had. Become a regular attendee or bounce around until you find the space or people that best suit your individual needs or tastes. Form the types of relationships careers rely on. The ability to be in three cities or three countries a day has never been more attainable. I aim for one a week. It has only helped me. Also, having an apprentice or co-op student can free you up from some of the more repetitive studio processes and allow you to focus on other aspects of the work and increase efficiencies.
What is your go-to food of choice these days? Any new recipes that you have tried that you are excited to make again?
It’s an inside joke but a few years ago I made a hip-hop album titled Pasta with DJ Goersch and Big Mr. Distort. Distort came to Cincinnati from New Jersey to visit this past week. While he was here we recorded Pasta 2. I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited to make another dish!! It was one of those projects that gave me instant gratification. Because it is collaborative in nature it probably won’t be mastered until the fall. It’s directly connected to my studio practice and I see it as a different point of entry into my practice. It will most likely be available for streaming and on vinyl.
Michael Coppage is a conceptual artist using an interdisciplinary approach to address social issues surrounding race and language. Coppage began 2021 as a recipient of Artswave’s Truth and Reconciliation grant and also completed a TEDx Talk. He also had two concurrent exhibitions at the Kennedy Heights Art Center and the Annex Gallery during the first three months of the year. This summer his highly anticipated Black Box series will be on display at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Coppage who has gained some attention recently for depicting white Americans as monkeys in his paintings has several collaborative pieces set for completion this year and just released a podcast on Spotify as part of his Black Box series.
You can learn more about this practice on his website https://www.michaelcoppage.com/portfolio
And by following him on Instagram @prosper_jones_