Boston artist Shea Justice’s scrolls unspool across the walls of Spoke Gallery in Boston, an illustrated stream-of-consciousness journal of the United States’ sordid political and civil rights history from the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush’s failed wars to police murdering George Floyd.
“By using rice scrolls, I create longstanding timelines about a government’s war from its inception until its conclusion. These works explore how war and the government actions impact the ideology and lives of the citizens through propaganda,” Justice, a teacher at Lincoln Sudbury Regional High School and member of Northeastern University’s African American Master Artist Residency Program, writes in an artist statement. The exhibit “Layered Time: Shea Justice—Scrolls of Justice” is on view from Sept. 13 to Oct. 23, 2021.
It feels like two decades of social media scrolling or channel surfing—bracing and painful and bitter to recall. Faces and headlines jump out: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Richard Clarke, Bill O’Reilly, George Orwell, Lena Horne, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, American soldier Lynndie English torturing an Iraqi prisoner.
“My patriotism has been challenged by some of my rich white students who don’t know nothing about what it means to be Black,” he writes in a 2003 piece next to his sketch of a photo, seen in the Boston Herald, of an American soldier standing over an Iraqi man cowering with his hands up. “I just want to get my facts straight,” Justice writes. “I’m going to try to record a part of history as it unfolds.”
Elsewhere Justice writes about African Americans removed from Florida voting roles by Republicans in the run up to the 2000 presidential election. He draws Bush with long donkey ears. Across the former president’s shirt collar, Justice has written: “Don’t mess with Texas or we’ll do you like Blacks.”
He writes: “Democrats are officially gutless cowards with no vision. Please bring on a third party!”
Around sketches of Black boxers and bicycle racers, Justice asks “How many of us have sacrificed our bodies to sports to prove a point and prove we matter as a people?”
There are striking juxtapositions—Martin Luther King Jr. giving his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech next to a drawing of George Floyd being murdered by a White Minneapolis police officer in 2020 and Floyd’s last words: “Mama, I can’t breathe.”
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