By, Megan LaCreta, Staff Writer
On Tuesday, Sept. 21, the Black Student Union and Student Engagement co-sponsored a talk with Brooklyn-based artist Russell Craig, to kick off the 10th Annual Student Engagement Lecture Series.
Senior international studies major and BSU co-president Mamady Ballo interviewed Craig, whose art puts the social and political front and center as having been inspired by his experiences in foster care and the prison system.
“Throughout my childhood, I was a foster kid, so my interest in art started a long time ago because I would be in my own world, and art was like a focus to get my mind off of the things that I was going through,” Craig said. “And eventually as I got older, I ended up in the prison system. So then I was like reconnected with art and… the same way as when I was in the foster care system, it was like a distraction from my situation, so I used that same mindset inside of prison, and then started to think that I could be an artist once I leave.”
After Craig left prison, he got a job working as an artist with an organization called Mural Arts Philadelphia. Since then, his work has been featured in the Philadelphia African American Museum, at the 2016 Democratic National Convention and one of his pieces was even recently acquired by the Brooklyn Museum as a part of their permanent collection, to be displayed alongside the likes of Picasso and Basquiat, an achievement Craig is particularly proud of.
“Don’t ever let the light tell y’all to give up on your dreams,” Craig said. “We keep talking about manifestation and all of that, it’s not a game, it’s so real. I came to New York two years ago and I sat in front of the Brooklyn Museum and I just watched. They had a Trinidadian parade going on. And I would just sit there watching and now I’m in the permanent collection.”
In light of Craig’s success, Ballo asked him for his own definition of Black excellence.
“I mean it’s like big success,” Craig said. “And then once you get that success, to try to help people and things like that, and that might go beyond yourself. What do you do for others, that’s an example of Black excellence.”
Ballo had good reason to ask the artist about Black excellence, since the BSU has been working to install a Black excellence mural on campus for the past year, in light of the Black Lives Matter protests of the summer of 2020.
“[The BSU] created a list of demands, and the things that we wanted, and we have indicated that we want a Black excellence, like a physical representation on campus that represents us, so when we come on campus we feel like we belong,” Ballo said.
Craig was interested to hear about Ballo’s ideas for the mural and even offered to assist with supplies and in finding an artist to take on the task.
Senior psychology major Johanna Dalo was in attendance at the event and expressed what it meant to her for Craig to be a part of the mural process.