Diversity is Mandatory in the New Millennium

It shouldn't come as a surprise that so many outcries are taking place recently.  It becomes more apparent that there is a disconnect between our experiences and personal truths, and what our neighbors and media THINK they are.  I'm often asked about the diversity in my work.  It reminds me of the time when I learned about diversity for the first time, and the history that led me to the art I make today. 

 

When I was younger, I showed my mother a picture of a woman I had drawn.  My  mother is always encouraging, and is always first to claim my archived work.  I must've been between 7-10 years old when she took my drawing,  looked at it and quickly handed it back with her critique.  "There's no color."

no color?

What did she mean by that, I wondered.  I clearly spent time coloring in her yellow hair, and red lips, and rosy cheeks.   There was color everywhere!  How could she say that?  I remember feeling attacked, this may have been the harshest criticism I'd ever received from her up till then!  I think she may have sensed my frustration as moms do, and she told me plainly I left out her skin color. 

 

Her skin color?  Obviously she was white.  Everyone I'd drawn up to this moment was white.  Mind you, I'm 3rd generation Mexican-American.   I knew everyone wasn't white in the real world, but nothing in mainstream media I'd seen till then was anything but white, so why would my drawing be anything but white?  My head was spinning with questions I'm sure I didn't understand, but it was starting to make me angry.  In response, my next picture was of people colored strictly in black, and green, and red, and any color except "uncolored".  It was hurried, messy and raw which I thought accurately showed my anger.   I knew she wouldn't like it.  When she said that it was better,  my jaw dropped.  I hated it,  I did it out of spite, it was supposed to make her mad too!  Not to mention I wasted time coloring a drawing that could've actually been pretty.

It took me a long time to grasp what this taught me.  Diversity was always ingrained in me, I just hadn't applied it to my artwork.  I did what I was asked to draw,  and I drew from the art I knew.  I had Disney.  I had Saturday morning cartoons.  But I didn't have public access television, no Sesame Street, or any of  the other programs that my peers grew up with.  This was before the internet!  To be honest, I never thought I needed them.  I grew up with friends of all different colors.  I never discriminated when it came to talking to new people or finding  my best friend as a kid.  

A dramatic re-creation of my drawing
A dramatic re-creation of my drawing

There were literally children of all different races and colors all around me, but somehow the lack of representation in popular media told me that when I draw, I must only draw white.  I grew up in the 80's, I knew people of different races, but till then I never really thought about the difference.  I don't know how when it came to art, the rules automatically changed.  But I'm glad that at least in my young world, they did.  And I'm glad I learned this early.  I can only assume that's what comes from great parenting.  (Thanks Mom!)

and then there was x-men

Ororo Munroe aka Storm is the fiercest X-Man, X-Woman, X-Anyone to grace the comic page in my personal opinion.  Before I knew her there, however, she was the "Weather Witch" of the X-Men animated series.  This was my introduction, and  I became obsessed.  She was multi-layered, but always strong and true.  One could say that my magnetism to strong female leads came from my mother also.  I won't dispute that.   There were many leads that I could've latched onto, but none as mysterious and beautiful as Storm.

There was incredible diversity in this series, and relevant issues at play that were far beyond what we as kids were conscious of.  But we knew right from wrong and we loved X-Men for being on the right side.   Now there was something to copy, something to emulate.  Not only that, but a door was thrust  wide open to what I'd been missing!


then classic hip-hop

Hip-Hop was just the bees knees.  My favorite group was JJ Fad, until Salt-N-Pepa, and then TLC.  They are still holding on to that title.   I owe a lot of my exposure to these artists to my sister who is 4 years older than me and had much better taste in music than me at the time.   Everyday on the way to school I was blasting music from my boombox for all the kids on the bus.  (Sorry bus drivers of my past!)  My taste in music  had a lot to do with who I connected with as a child.  How I talked, my sense of humor, and my expressions were all a direct result.  Thus I always held the most diverse group of friends that I'd ever seen.  This is still true to this day and I wouldn't have it any other way.

 

At the time, I didn't think anyone else did it any other way either.  But I'd soon find out that I was wrong, and the world wasn't the colorful rainbow I thought it was.   Even though I had friends of all races,  I was happy I'd never seen anyone discriminate against them.  Luckily it might've been due to the small world in which we all lived.  Still, I knew the possibility was there.  I began to see more minorities in entertainment telling their stories in explicit and heartbreaking narratives.  I was shown a different world of hate and prejudice.  I was glad to never experience these struggles where I lived, or at least, not be affected directly by them, but the power of their message was strong. 

So, whats the truth?

To quote the Oprah memes, "So what is the truth?"  After so much craziness in the news and unrest in the community,  I believe the truth is we still have a long way to go.   Which is deeply saddening considering this is 2016.  But it is also very hopeful.  Nina Simone said that the duty of every artist is to reflect the times.  That is our calling.  It may not be for all, and it may not be the catalyst of change,  but it's a start.   Whatever kind of artist you are, not just visual, not just music, and not just literary, it is our duty.  As the maker of your life and doer of things,  you have opportunities to change minds. 

 

 It comes down to us, as a people to make change.  The laws have been put in place, the attitudes are there, the times are different, but we are not united.  You have to make your voice heard.  You have to tell your story.   My voice goes way back to my youth, and includes many more examples and experiences I haven't touched on yet.   I learned to ask myself where is the color?  Where is the diversity?  What are you doing to make this a reality in your world? 

 

Black White and Red painting by JohnnyPerezArt.com
Cosmonaut IV afro futurism painting by JohnnyPerezArt.com

the future is now

You may not know where to begin, or rocking the boat may not be your thing.  To you I will say this, reflect your world, good, bad and ugly.   I'm not big on political art myself, and I understand the hesitation.  My point is that you do not have to graffiti public walls like Banksy.  You can simply make certain choices that are inclusive, that promote diversity instead of shield it.  I choose to include color.  I choose every color.  This idea has launched me to new worlds of interest.  I have recently discovered a love for science fiction because of it.  Alien skins, and cultures, and the ideas of sci-fi are on point.  As a society of the new millennium it's where we should be.  You can call me a nerd, but at least the future I see is bright and diverse.  I want to believe by then, diversity will no longer be mandatory, but a given.  We may be decades behind now, but I have hope that  humanity will rise into the stars.  At least from that vantage point, there is no doubt (none!), that we are one. 

Cosmonaut series watercolor painting by Johnny Perez

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About the Artist

 I would call myself a Jack of all Trades, but mostly because I'm interested in many areas of art if not all!  I graduated with a BFA in Fine Art from the University of North Texas with a focus on Watercolor.   I always had dreams of creative writing, and in 5th grade I wasn't too bad!  Art clearly won out for my attention, but writing will always have a place in my heart!

What better way to write, I say,  than to share a blog, and practice my second love while talking about my first! With that said, I hope you all enjoy my ramblings and please hit me up with any questions.  :D  Contact me!


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