The work of American novelist, playwright, and activist James Baldwin (1924–1987) on the complexities of racial and class distinctions in twentieth-century America continues to inspire new generations of artists, including Nekisha Durrett. This portrait of Baldwin, created by Durrett for the present exhibition, is a version of a larger-scale mural commissioned by the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., where Durrett is an alumna and teacher.
Durrett describes the school as the place where she learned to “shatter the established canon of art across disciplines,” and she wanted her commission to honor someone whose work had inspired her as a student. “Ellington is where I first read the work of James Baldwin, an artist who made no apologies for being both Black and queer. When conceptualizing a work for this space, for me it was critical that the students, many of whom are also Black and queer, experience this visual affirmation daily.”