Hearne Fine Art Gallery in Little Rock, Arkansas, has exhibited artwork made by Black Americans for thirty-five years. The Gallery’s current exhibition, Perrion Hurd’s New Forms: Black Male Portraiture Through Afro-futurism, features black and white etchings of African American men, shrouded by halos with energized patterns. The title, “New Forms”, has a double meaning. Not only are these Hurd’s newest drawings, many made this year, but they also demand a new form of looking at the Black male experience. The scratch board etchings are made of white paper with a coated in a black surface that has been carved away to reveal the color underneath. The works are small, ranging from 7 x 5 inches to 14 x 11 inches. The size and high contrast forces viewers to engage with the delicate details in the background.
The portraits vary, some depict African American men in shadows, while others are drawn with their chins held high, basking in light. Some portraits render inky black beards, and others show Hurd’s hand with highlighted locs piled carefully atop the subject’s head.
The works suspend Black men in celestial backgrounds, and the titles teeter between realism and transcendence. Works like Hi-Top or I See Thru U / I See You, Too highlight the physical features of those depicted: one man’s hi-top fade, or the bright whites of the subject’s gaze. The figure dominates the foreground, their heads overtaking much of the patterned halos hanging behind them. These men are positioned in the same surreal, mystical scene as others in the series, however it is made evident, these men are familiar, earthly.
Other works, such as Dream Good Dreams, which features a young man with his eyes closed and face turned away, draw attention to the backgrounds Hurd carefully carved. Repeated patterns of stars, moons, and triangulated figures decorate the scene, and remove the young man from any grounded reality; he is floating in an infinite and dream-like realm. Afrofuturism, as an artistic genre, is incorporated with this dreamy visual language as a means to broaden viewers’ perspective on Black possibilities. According to Hurd’s artist statement, in day-to-day life this mysticism is often overlooked, but intrinsic to the Black masculine experience:
“I strive to create a space where stories and histories intersect, revealing the resilience, beauty, and spirituality inherent in Black masculinity. Using the Afro-Futurist framework, I envision a future where Black male identity flourishes beyond stereotypes and systemic oppression. By incorporating elements of science fiction, technology, and mysticism, I transport viewers to a world where the Black experience is infinite, transcendent, and full of possibility.”
Afrofuturism can be understood as a counter-narrative to science fiction that sees the alien as other. At its simplest form, it is a way of reimagining history so that it centralizes Black life and possibility, often through celestial and extraterrestrial imagery. Afrofuturism was born out of the Black diaspora, and still Hurd recognizes the importance of Christianity to modern Black American spirituality. He incorporates such imagery through works like The Good Son and The Shepherd, which call back to Biblical figures of masculinity and gentleness. The consistent halo present behind each subject hearkens back to medieval and early Renaissance art, where the gilded disc is fixated to the heads of saints and holy figures. Hurd’s figures, regardless of inhabiting a Christian position, possess inherit holiness. Hurd argues that one does not have to negate the masculine in order to embrace the holy and the calm.
While all the works embody limitlessness, the work Inexorable, which depicts a Black man facing the viewer with a star square in the middle of his throat, embodies Hurd’s thesis best. He is strong jawed, and the landscape behind him mirrors his shoulders. Hurd hopes these artworks serve as a mirror for the viewer, a place to challenge stereotypes about the Black male experience.
Stars and Stripes places the exhibition’s optimism in direct opposition with the American hyper-masculine and restrictive Black male stereotype. The subject of this print is not simply surrounded by the stars and stripes but is integrated with them. His shirt is speckled with stars, and the same stripes that color the air behind him weave into his chest. Stars and Stripes reminds us that the Black experience is the American experience. There is no separating the two.