“I began #InHonor as a personal response to the killings of Black people across America. To be completely honest the work was born out of guilt. All of my friends had rallied up in arms to march for Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner. I, on the other hand, was nowhere to be found. I felt guilty. I consider myself, for the most part, a conscious individual and so my silence became a burden. When the time came for me to be vocal with my peers I chose the path of cowardice. What real change would come of my presence as a young gay black man at a march in which half of my people don’t accept or acknowledge me? Still though I felt moved to do something. Whether or not I was accepted was something I had and will always deal with, I had to come to terms with that before anything else.”
— Ervin A. Johnson
Variations On A Theme is a nod to the technical influence of jazz within the series, but also how that genre reflects the life experiences of Black people. Our experiences as Americans are nuanced, riddled with complexity. Racism functions, in the same way, adapting to the times and hiding behind pillars of privilege. The Black spirit shifts too, renegotiating trauma into beauty and triumph; a call and response. #InHonor exists as a visual reminder of the power of that transformation, and the inherent tenacity of the Black spirit. Guided by variations the work explores trauma in a very tangible way via the transformation of the portrait. Paint is introduced to the photographic material in a metaphoric way as a stand-in for physical and mental abuse done to Black bodies. Removing pigment and adding back from the photo on the first layer, in a not so accurate way becomes a commentary on the mishandling of the Black body.
The exhibition was on view at Arnika Dawkins Gallery in Atlanta through November 6, 2020