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Haitian-American Artist Explains His Image Of MLK And President Trump

Jan 18, 2018
Originally published on January 18, 2018 3:41 pm

You may have seen an illustration on Martin Luther King Jr. Day showing the civil rights leader with a hand over President Trump’s mouth, trying to get the president to stop tweeting. The artist is Watson Mere, he was born in the U.S., but his parents are Haitian.

Mere (@ArtOfMere_) speaks with Here & Now‘s Robin Young about his image, and the president’s recent alleged comments asking, “Why do we want people from Haiti here?”

Interview Highlights

On his initial thoughts about President Trump’s alleged comments

“When I first heard the words reported, initially, it was very disheartening, especially since it was around the anniversary of the earthquake of 2010 that hit Haiti. And around that time of the year, that’s usually a time where Haitians around the world, millions, we grieve and we remember the lost ones that were killed because of the earthquake, an unimaginable number. Just seeing the images, and my relatives that were in Haiti, just hearing their accounts of how horrific it was and loved ones that they actually lost. Usually that’s a time where Haitians, we grieve. It happened eight years ago now, but it’s still something that hits us all really deeply around this time of the year. So that combined with the alleged remarks, it really — I tend to try not to allow anything that the news or he says affect me — but that really hit somewhere deep.”

On his response to the alleged comments

“First of all, Haiti is an extremely beautiful country with some of the most beautiful, most creative, most vibrant people in the world that you’ll ever meet. Haiti has contributed so much to America, U.S. history. Because of the Haitian Revolution, America was able to purchase the Louisiana Territory from the French. Cities like Chicago were actually founded by Haitians, so Haitian contribution to this country is plenty, and so I just couldn’t imagine that someone could say something about a country that has just contributed so much to the world.”

On what it was like to see his “My Brother’s Keeper” piece go viral again

“To be completely honest with you, it was surreal. I wasn’t really expecting that at all. I released it last year, mainly because I just wanted to do something in honor of Dr. King. And it just so happened that Martin Luther King Jr. Day was a week before the inauguration, and the atmosphere of the entire country — my spirit just gave me a vision of the image that I ultimately created. But in terms of it actually going viral once again, that was just something that was — I didn’t imagine and it really caught me by surprise.”

On the message of that piece

“Because of what I know of the history and the legacy of Dr. King … his message of equality, peaceful equality. So I didn’t want to do anything that was too aggressive. I didn’t want to do anything that was a caricature of either one of them. I wanted to just do something that would be completely honest and real. And that’s why — the piece is called ‘My Brother’s Keeper.’ I just wanted to take on his spirit of just saying — giving out that message of equality that Dr. King, that he embedded in all of us. … The message is that I don’t find that he’s been in line with Dr. King’s message of equality.”

On the message of his artwork in general

“Basically what I’m saying is that it’s OK to embrace yourself. It’s not even if you’re African-American, but whoever you are, it’s OK to embrace whoever you are. To me, it doesn’t make sense to try to alter who you are just to be ‘professional.’ You can be professional and at the same time embrace your roots. I basically just wanted to create images — I remember going to a museum. It was beautiful art in the museum, I loved it, but I didn’t see anything that represented me or my culture. I didn’t complain about it. I said, ‘You know what? I have a skill that God’s blessed me with. Why not go out there and create the art that I wanted to see?’ And also just to show people that it’s OK to be yourself. It’s OK to embrace yourself.”

On the influence of Jean-Michel Basquiat

“Basquiat has been a huge influence on me. I remember as a kid in high school researching famous black artists and finding Basquiat and discovering his work for the first time, and discovering that he’s actually of Haitian descent. He’s Haitian and Puerto Rican, similar to me. He grew up in an environment without much opportunity, but he was able to create something out of nothing. He’s not only an influence to me, but in terms of many black artists, he’s a huge influence. Because he’s someone that currently, right now, he’s in the ranks of a Picasso, of a Matisse, of a van Gogh, and he’s a modern black artist who grew up exactly like a lot of black artists who grew up now. Now he’s in the ranks with legends.”

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