Huey Metropolis The work is piecing together an origin story, and trying to find myself and ourselves in every part of history.
By Mary Truong November 12th, 2020
A rhetorical question: how do you respond to social systems that destroy your history, erase your presence, and inflict trauma as routine? For Huey Metropolis, “radical Black imagination” is a necessary reaction— something to get off his chest. In Metropolis’ art, this imagination takes form through images and stories of superheroes. For him, “comic books and superheroes are people at their most powerful… That feeling of absolute control over your destiny is a very appealing thing for me. You don’t need to worry about the normal things, the normal obstacles in life.” Metropolis creates illustrations (most recently, digital illustrations) with occasionally collaged elements depicting these heroes. For his current project, he envisions his illustrations’ final form to be large comic panels that are plastered on the walls of the room— a graphic novel turned life size. When asked why an installation over simply publishing a comic book, Metropolis states that he wants the viewer to be immersed and for the characters to be large enough to feel real.
“My goal when putting out work is to have people immersed in a storyboard or an alternate world.”
Part of Metropolis’ attraction to creating an immersive alternate world with heroes is so that he can create an escape from regular oppressive circumstances in the world, but he also chooses to temper his works’ escapist qualities. In the overarching narrative of these illustrations, he includes references to traumatic events— assassinations of Black leaders and race riots/massacres. He says, “I don’t think of it as complete escape; just a little bit of distance between what happened… A space that’s safe for people to explore.” To Metropolis, the exploration is a journey; though it may contain traumatic points, it can move beyond singular moments of tragedy. By inserting superheroes into his narratives, Metropolis creates a new source of power and illumination that can allow some type of healing: the past can be acknowledged, but so can a potential future.
Metropolis states that his current audience is “specifically Black youth/Black people who are still in the midst of defining themselves,” but he also makes gestures of inclusion for viewers who do not fit into that demographic. In his art, he creates “multiple entrance points” by incorporating references to Renaissance art, basketball, comic books, and Black history. Metropolis states that by intertwining Renaissance art, a period sometimes regarded as a height of human civilization (through the hegemonic lens of a white, European reading of history), with Black history, he hopes to elevate the two histories to the same level. Furthermore, by including references to more popular culture, he hopes to meet viewers from a place of understanding that can lead to empathy.
“Claiming how you move through the world and how you identify yourself.”
It’s strange to see how history plays such a large role in Metropolis’ works when he depicts such fantastical settings, but history creates a touchstone for identity. As part of his undergraduate thesis work, Metropolis created a large collage on his wall tracing major influences in his life— an internal study about his family, history, and superheroes. He remembers how in high school, “I saw the disparity of what actually happened versus what we were told happened. As a kid, I remember the Black Panthers mentioned in the same sentence as the KKK. Blatant lies and the destruction of history made me want to take back our own story— explore for myself what really happened and share that with people.” Metropolis’ art provides an opportunity for reclamation and for developing an origin story that allows him to “find myself and ourselves in every part of history.”
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