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Donald Black Jr.

Donald Black Jr.
“The whole goal is ‘what do you want to say?’ Ultimately what you’re doing is about you, whether you are aware of it or not.” One of the most well-known local artist activists, Donald Black Jr. discusses his public work as a reflection of himself and his story in the community.

Photographer, Donald Black Jr. was born and raised in Cleveland. His experiences growing up influenced his art and the person he is today. You may have seen his work, “The Power of Pieces”, which was a temporary art installation Black developed in 2011 that recalled the relationship Black built with his own absentee father through chess. “My dad…would come and play me in chess when he was over partying on my side of town,” Black says. “I kind of really appreciated what the game of chess did for me.” So it was natural leap for him to tie in the topic of absentee fathers as his body of work focused on vacancies within urban families.

Black’s installation was soon selected by Cleveland Public Library and Cleveland Public Art (now LAND studio) to be part of their See Also program. This program involves the installation of a temporary work of art in the library’s Eastman Reading Garden each summer. Black crafted six chess tables, 2 by 3 square feet, designed for people to play chess standing. 1,000 chess pieces were fabricated. Hanging above the display was a 15-by-9 foot photograph of a young black boy and his father; heads meeting over the chessboard, representing Black and his father. Chess, as Black sees it, is a metaphor for life.

Black’s life started in Cleveland and after sticking around Ohio to attend Ohio University, Black ventured to New York. He had many jobs in New York including offering discount headshots to aspiring actors, developing workshops and mentoring programs, teaching about urban culture, and teaching art as a form of expression. “I had to do all sorts of jobs in New York to pay my rent.” As a result, he soon decided to move back to Cleveland, which he says benefitted him financially.

Upon returning, Black continued working with students by leading summer programs through Center for Arts-Inspired Learning (formerly Young Audiences of Northeast Ohio). He taught life lessons along with photography to teens and preteens through afterschool programs. He quickly realized that his story – growing up learning to draw from his mother, finding refuge from the neighborhood violence at school where he won a spot at Cleveland School of the Arts, and pursuing a passion for photographic technique and artistry at Ohio University – meant more to kids in Cleveland than in New York.

Black is currently the 2014 Artist in Residence at Zygote Press where he recently had an exhibit entitled “My Scars Exposed.” “For a long time I did not know these scars existed because I tucked them before I had a chance to ignore them. My environment even blanketed these scars because where there are drugs, murder, guns, scarce food and income – there is little time to stop and examine or care for wounds. I just survived and I kept on going. The smartest thing I did in survival mode was the decision to create art.”