In a studio that’s part of Houston’s Project Row Houses, I catch up with artist Jajah Gray as he works feverishly on a set of 12 paintings, collectively titled “ENDPOWER.”
The concept of ENDPOWER has many layers of meaning for Gray. On one hand, he’s calling for the end of inequality and racism still visible in the city. A friend of his had to move her successful business from a choice location recently because the landlord wouldn’t renew her lease, he explains. “The paintings are meditations about my identity as a Black in America,” says Gray.
On another level, Gray’s protesting the corporate manipulation of images to sell unhealthy products to minorities. In this case, he points to an empty pack of “Black” cigars.
“The cigars are a metaphor for the appropriation of black culture - something to be used for the pleasure of consumption while, we as a people, are disregarded,” says Gray. “It’s like smoking the cigars before throwing away the butts and the packaging.”
The red triangle becomes a recurring symbol he incorporates into his ENDPOWER art series:
“I define "ENDPOWER" as: one, the ability to bring something to its conclusion; two, a reference to the moment when ultimate power is achieved; and three, the act of rendering an entity powerless,” he states.
Gray’s art is mirrored in the music that he composes; the two mediums work together to question the limits of power - social, corporate, and political.
On the side of the wall, I catch sight of Gray’s reminder to himself: “EAT, SLEEP, PAINT. REPEAT.”
In this, the Age of Trump, I sense a new urgency and relevancy in Gray’s work. It’s a testament to the artist’s ethic that reveals his underlying pain in a way that is vibrant, colorful and yet, still a protest.
How can we possibly cut government funding for the arts when it is art that questions and creates meaning in society? The Taliban are winning, it seems.