By Damion Smalls
Lauded Charleston-based artist Christopher “kolpeace” Johnson has gifted the local arts scene with his latest exhibit now on display throughout February at the Saul Alexander Gallery, which is located inside the Main Branch of the Charleston County Public Library. “Resilient” recognizes five impactful and admirable African-Americans that have symbolized unyielding strength through adversity.
This exclusive collection was created in collaboration with the Charleston Activist Network, who broadcasted a live conversation with kolpeace during the Feb. 4 exhibit opening reception as part of their Mic’d Up Podcast series.
The five individuals memorialized in “Resilient” are Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Kara Walker, Muhiyidin D’Baha, Cyntoia Brown, and Robert Smalls. “Each Resilient Warrior had to go through real life to bring out the truth in people’s heart, including my own, and I’m proud of the message that God gave to me,” affirms kolpeace.
Each work in “Resilient” was illustrated by kolpeace in his self-taught signature speed painting style that has made him a crowd and critical favorite at events and venues such as the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival, Spoleto Festival, Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, North Charleston Arts Festival, Lowcountry Local First Good Business Summit, MOJA Arts Festival, and various schools nationwide. The five entries are personalized with armor and/or battle garb to show their unwillingness to back down or go out without a fight.
Rev. Coleman-Singleton was an assistant pastor for Mother Emanuel AME who was killed during the racially motivated June 2015 mass shooting at the church. A beloved member of Emanuel and Goose Creek High School’s faculty, her legacy of compassion rooted in faith continues through her son, Charleston Southern graduate and professional baseball player Chris Singleton.
Kara Walker is award-winning artist known worldwide for her graphic and provocative imagery depicting African Americans, often with Antebellum and Jim Crow era themes. Her uncompromising style has been met with controversy throughout her career, but Walker has remained true to herself and her craft to this day.
Black Lives Matter Charleston leader Muhiyidin d’Baha was a prominent local activist that fought for the Black community with immense dedication and sincerity up until his Feb. 2018 murder in New Orleans at the age of 32. A memorial was held in his honor at Hampton Park by the Denmark Vesey statue Feb. 9.
Cyntoia Brown was 16 years old when she was given a life sentence for a shooting that resulted in the death of 43 year old Johnny Michael Allen, who picked up the runaway teen in 2004 to solicit sex. Brown argued self defense was her reason for the shooting, but she would remained stuck with life term in prison until a January 2019 order by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam commuted the sentence to August 7, 2019.
Robert Smalls is the legendary enslaved Beaufort man that escaped to freedom and became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He is presented in his military uniform in “Resilient,” a call back to his daring plan to steal the Confederate warship CSS Planter during the American Civil War to secure freedom for his family.
“During the process of creating these paintings, they created a reconciliation with the people I love. Seeing people cry on opening day revealed my intentions with the people’s story in each painting who I didn’t intimately understand at the beginning,” kolpeace professes. “Before, I tried to bring in what I thought was the way to put this exhibition together, but I was let down and disappointed. I soon learned dichotomy between what it meant to be an activist versus pretending, support versus suit, and resilient versus relevant.”
The Saul Alexander Gallery is located at 68 Calhoun St. in downtown Charleston and open Monday-Thursday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday-Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. The gallery will be closed Monday, February 18 in observance of President’s Day.
To keep up with this astute artist and his work, visit www.kolpeace.com and follow him (@kolpeace) on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.