Amanda King graduated from Case Western Reserve University's law school last year and still lives in the Cleveland Heights apartment she rented as a student. But instead of practicing law, King has immersed herself in her true love—photography.
Today King is creative director of Shooting Without Bullets—an arts-based program that uses photography and hip-hop performance as a tool to combat social injustices affecting black and brown teens in Cleveland—and a practicing photographer. Her installation of “The Marigolds,” a six-photograph portrait series of one Buckeye family, will debut tomorrow, Thursday, September 13, as the first of four installations in LAND studio’s Inner City Hues project. An unveiling and block party will be held Saturday, September 15, from 2 to 6 p.m.
Image of Michael Jr. and Michaela - Arrington-Byrd-Moss FamilyThe anticipation has been building all summer for Inner City Hues, a public art project in Cleveland’s Buckeye-Shaker and Mt. Pleasant neighborhoods designed to unite the community and bring some vibrancy into forgotten parts of the city.SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave
With funding from St. Luke’s Foundation, LAND studio has spent several years facilitating and implementing public art projects, greenspace improvements, and park programming throughout the greater Buckeye neighborhood.
“The Marigolds” utilizes full-length portraits to depict the Arrington-Byrd-Moss family—three generations of Buckeye residents who live and thrive in one of Cleveland’s most racially segregated and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. King was influenced by Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye, which she views as a powerful representation of the black experience.
The boldness of the golden backdrop and vibrant flowers in the portraits create a stark contrast to the abandoned storefront in which they are installed at 13000 Buckeye Road. King, who calls herself an "artist-activist," says she uses her knowledge of styling and portraiture to depict her subjects in a positive light, as they are often people who are underrepresented or misrepresented in society.
“For this particular project, [set] in the Buckeye community that has a complicated history and a vibrant community despite economic hardships, it was important to show a family who is in that community thriving and doing great work,” King explains. She adds that the marigold flowers are a metaphor for the fragility of black life, while the Arrington-Byrd-Moss family symbolizes the resilience of the black family.
King based the installation on a passage from Morrison’s book: “I even think now that the land of the entire country was hostile to marigolds that year. The soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say that the victim had no right to live. We were wrong, of course, but it doesn’t matter. It’s too late. At least on the edge of my town.”
King believes Morrison’s words mirror the struggles that many Buckeye families endure. “When flowers die, we blame it on the flower, not the soil,” she says. “Sometimes we blame victims for the societal conditions where they live. ’The Marigolds’ is a visual metaphor for family, vitality, and the right to exist."
King herself experienced what life is like in Buckeye after spending nine months in the neighborhood for Inner City Hues. “There was trash and debris everywhere,” she recalls of the area around the empty storefront where she worked. “There are bullet holes in my storefront, there was broken glass, shoes, clothes. It’s not people who are the issue; it’s systemic.”
As a result, King didn’t want to do a mural for Buckeye, but rather create a more realistic installation to make people stop and study the photographs. “I wanted the Buckeye community to be challenged with visual literacy,” she says. “We’re really pulling out every single tool we have in the toolbox to help celebrate the Buckeye community.”
Saturday’s block party at the installation site will feature a DJ, live performances from the youth artists of Shooting Without Bullets, a live band, food, and art activities for children. Local community organizations such as EDWIN’s Institute and Cleveland Neighborhood Progress have been invited to circulate information about their work. The party is being funded by Red Bull Amaphiko.
In conjunction with “The Marigolds,” King will host a six-month, all-girls experiential learning mini-course in public artmaking for five teen artists from the Buckeye neighborhood. The course will teach black and brown teen girls the business of art and to prepare them to combat racial and gender disparities in the arts. The course will run from October to March.