Welcome to the evolution of an artist.
Jabari Reed-Diop, whose futuristic graffiti-styled paintings, inspired by hip hop, comic book graphics and elements of society’s darker aspects, has been working, and exhibiting, nonstop since his first Catalyst profile in 2020. He had just completed a mural, for the SHINE festival, on the southwestern wall of the Grand Central Brewhouse.
Reed-Diop, whose street name is iBOMS – Illegal Beauty on My Street – has a new show opening Friday at thestudio@620, just a week before his 24th birthday. Ghetto Gods has many of the elements of his earlier work, including the liberal use of symbols and text, but in another way it represents a 180 degree turn for this young creator.
There was a certain naivete in his early works, Reed-Diop admits. “I didn’t even know what to look for at the time. I didn’t know what I was seeing.”
Ghetto Gods, he says, represents his ongoing spiritual journey. The jumping-off point was the album of the same name by Atlanta rap duo EarthGang. “The album is them talking about what it’s like coming from the mud, or coming from the ghetto, and basically letting the light within them glow. And getting to a higher spiritual awakening.”
The fruits of his own quest for meaning translated into art, not music, although the hip hop inspiration, and earlier stylistic flourishes including whimsy, are still very much in evidence.
“With Ghetto Gods, I was inspired by all the different religions and traditions and spiritualities that I’ve touched on throughout my journey as an artist,” he explains.
“I wanted to find a way to use terms of endearment within the artwork. Because when I first started off, a lot of my characters were completely blank of color – they were completely white, and I wanted to have more representation of what I look like, and what I know I look like.
“And looking at people in the community, friends, and seeing their spirituality, or their spiritual attributes, and basically turning them into deities in a sense.”
Is maturing the correct verb here? Probably not, since playfulness, and the refusal to adhere to rules of conformity, are essential to the work of an artist.
Reed-Diop knows what’s going on. “I’m starting to get more relaxed,” he says, “and realizing that I’m an artist and I can just paint a picture – I don’t have to make it perfect and clean like a comic book. It can just be a nice painting.”
Since I was younger, the topic of religion has always been interesting to me. Always finding myself in debates with my elders on things that just didn’t make sense. As grew, this disconnection with the church allowed me to see other cultures’ explanation for life and humanity.
Jabari Reed-Diop, artist statement for ‘Ghetto Gods’
Friday’s reception (6-8 p.m.) is free and open to the public. thestudio@620 website.