Ervin A. Johnson’s Mixed-Media Portraits Exploring Black Identity

January 20, 2020


The Black Lives Matter movement describes itself as a “call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society”. “#InHonor: Monoliths”, on view at Arnika Dawkins Gallery in Atlanta, features a series of portraits created by Ervin A. Johnson and is his creative response to that movement.

#InHonor / Monolith © Ervin Johnson – Courtesy Arnika Dawkins Gallery

Throughout history artists have responded creatively to their time; and at times are dialed in to a different level of sensitivity to what is going on around them. #InHonor: Monoliths explores notions of confrontation, forthright exploration and seeks understanding surrounding destruction of lives due to police cruelty.

“#InHonor: Monoliths” is a continuation of a series of portraits created to honor Blackness. Johnson states that, “this body of work speaks to the racial violence and discrimination currently occurring across America, particularly in the form of police brutality”. He further describes that the faces in the series reference validation, representing not only individuals, but in a deeper way the face of humanity.

#InHonor / Monolith © Ervin Johnson – Courtesy Arnika Dawkins Gallery

The powerful mixed media portraits speak to the pain of individuals and more broadly to the Black experience. Johnson created #InHonor: Monoliths to exist in the public realm. The hashtag in the title is not only a purposeful nod to the viral nature of social media, but also an acknowledgement of the part social media has played in seeking justice in recent tragic events.

#InHonor / Monolith © Ervin Johnson – Courtesy Arnika Dawkins Gallery

Johnson’s process is informed by the abstract expressionist movement; paint is introduced to the photographic material in a metamorphic way as a stand in for physical and mental abuse done to black bodies. However, Johnson states, “the focus is not on the destructive nature of racism as a physical manifestation in the work. That is to say, “destruction” occurs more subtly as the work has evolved. Removing pigment and adding back from the photo on the first layer, in a not so accurate way becomes a commentary on the mishandling of the black body and also how because “Blackness” is oftentimes viewed as monolithic. Colors used in the second layer aren’t specific to each individual. By adding the pigment back by hand I care for my brothers and sisters and forge for them a new existence, which is typical of the black experience, making something out of nothing.”

#InHonor / Monolith © Ervin Johnson – Courtesy Arnika Dawkins Gallery

Ervin A. Johnson : #InHonor: Monoliths Exhibition

October 11, 2019 – February 7, 2020
Arnika Dawkins Gallery
4600 Cascade Road
Atlanta, GA 30331


Recent posts
I Can Make You Feel Good
Tyler Mitchell, a 24-year-old photographer and filmmaker based in Brooklyn, aims to revitalize and elevate the Black body in his work by representing people in his own community as joyful and proud. Characterized by a use of natural light and candy-color palettes, his work visualizes a Black utopia contrasting with representations and experiences of reality, while offering a powerful and hopeful counter narrative.
Lower East Side: A Neighborhood’s Photographs
The Lower East Side, one of the most densely populated, multiethnic, and modern places in the country, has been mined by photographers for more than 100 years. While late 19th-century social reformers attempted to show “how the other half lives,” later photographers had a different, and often more personal, relationship with the neighborhood.