Recent Acquisition: Ahmaud Arbery (2020) by Papay Solomon
Papay Solomon, Ahmaud Arbery, 2020, graphite, white charcoal and acrylic on gray toned paper. Collection of the Tucson Museum of Art. Gift of the Artist. 2020.60
Papay Solomon, a painter who lives and works in Phoenix, creates portraits to tell the stories of African immigrants. Born in Guinea to Liberian parents, he spent much of his childhood in refugee camps before his family resettled in the United States when Solomon was 14. His work attempts to reconcile his two worlds: his adopted home in the U.S. and that of his African heritage.
Late in 2020 Solomon donated a new artwork to Tucson Museum of Art that is a significant departure from his paintings amplifying stories and experiences of the African diaspora, but is no less personal. Ahmaud Arbery is a mixed media painting depicting the young, unarmed Black man who was fatally shot one year ago today (February 23, 2020) while jogging near Brunswick in Glynn County, Georgia.
“That drawing came about as a reflection,” said Solomon in conversation with Dr. Marianna Pegno, TMA’s curator of community engagement. “When his life was violently taken that put me in a spiral. I had to think about…how I fit into the puzzle of this society.”
Solomon could see himself in Arbery. As a Black man very close to Arbery’s age who loves to run, and, prior to the fatal shooting that quickly became national news, Solomon often ran in his neighborhood at night or early in the morning. “That could have easily been me… it was sort of like I was seeing myself getting killed.” Solomon needed to work through those feelings, and he has used drawing and image-making as a technique to process emotions since he was a child with a stutter living in a refugee camp.
TMA’s relationship with Solomon started when his work was accepted for inclusion in Arizona Biennial 2018. As one of the first museums he worked with, immediately following his graduation from Arizona State University, he thought of TMA as the right place to donate his work.
“I wanted to create a different avenue for his story to be remembered,” said Solomon. “That’s why I chose a picture where he is smiling. I wanted the person to be remembered and not just everything that happened.”
Watch Solomon’s full interview with Dr. Pegno below. You can see more of Papay Solomon’s work on his website, including his hyperrealist paintings of African immigrants imbued with the reverence and grandeur of Renaissance and Baroque portraiture.
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