We're Not a Gang
This autobiographical painting is set in the 1980s, during the artist's childhood. The artist's practice is rooted in collage, and he creates his compositions on wood surfaces—employing painted paper, recycled materials, wire, fabric and more. Seemingly disparate individual elements come together into a cohesive scene depicting the artist's youth; layer upon layer of lived experience challenge the dominant narratives perpetuated about the Black American experience. Nesbitt's works are full of joy, with bold primary colors that allude to the innocence of youth. This work evokes storybook pictures—a rare possession in the impoverished community the artist grew up in. Yet this composition emanates a continuing fondness for the artist's childhood. This work entrances all who gaze upon them with an aura of nostalgia, unity and hope. The artist does not merely construct elegant collages—he builds community.
About this work, Nesbitt says: "Out in the public, I often felt the people around were suspicious of me. I always felt eyes on me. This was more obvious when there was a group of us Black boys together. Even as kids, we were viewed as dangerous and potentially violent. Adults would say mean things to us no one should ever say to child. Several of my friends have told me that they had teachers in elementary school who told them they’d never amount to anything! This is a group of friends, cousins, and siblings 12 years old and younger. Just kids!"
Melvin Nesbitt Jr.’s storytelling and visual arts practice is a poignant examination of race and poverty in contemporary society. In collage and mixed media works, the artist orchestrates cohesive scenes of his youth from bold saturated primary colors and seemingly disparate individual elements—including painted paper, wire and fabric. By portraying the joyful innocence of his childhood, Nesbitt Jr.’s work reconceivies the Black American experience.