The rebirth of Memphis would not be possible without artists who represent strong socioeconomic messages. Indeed, visual artists in Memphis are at the forefront in terms of raising social awareness of how our culture and economy affect diverse groups of people.
One such artist is Lester Julian Merriweather. Born in Memphis in 1978, Merriweather creates unique and visually appealing collages from the imagery used in advertising material.
His intention? To illuminate how advertisements portray racial prominence and inferiority, and to effect change regarding how people of color are represented in the media.
Early life and artistic inspirations
After receiving his Bachelor of Arts from Jackson State University, Merriweather pursued a Master of Fine Arts from the Memphis College of Art. He further refined his abilities at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, as well as while serving as curatorial director of the Martha and Robert Fogelman Galleries at the University of Memphis. His works have been exhibited across the U.S., from New York to Houston—and, of course, they’re a common fixture in these parts.
To understand Merriweather’s artistic works, you must first acknowledge his motivation to illustrate how capitalism has shaped the way communities across the nation interact with each other through the lens of economic status, race, and wealth.
Although collage—the practice of combining or recombining pieces taken from one or more sources—is a common artistic application, few visual artists have been able to use it as effectively as Merriweather. Indeed, it is difficult to ignore his uncanny ability to select and use images of economically powerful jewelry, watches and other ornaments intertwined with pictures of celebrities and other well-known personalities. Here, Merriweather highlights the themes of wealth, race and how they relate to pop culture.
In addition to curating the new Fogelman Galleries at the University of Memphis in 2013, Merriweather has held various solo exhibitions at the TOPS space along South Main in recent years.
Standout pieces from his rich portfolio of work include “angry black man mythos,” an emotionally charged paper collage that combines paper, acrylic and canvas to illuminate how society perceives the black male, and his vanilla extract series of paper-cut collages that explore how people of color fit into the complex equation of capitalism.
Through his insightful collages, Lester Julian Merriweather continues to play an important role in drawing attention to the inequities often experienced by people of color while simultaneously contributing to the growth of the Memphis art scene.
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