Artist Duo Champions Message of Change at "Capital Canvases"

 

Capital Canvases for a Cause is a monthly event in Washington, D.C., organized by Long & Foster on Capitol Hill, that supports local artists and community-based organizations with wine, hors d'oeuvres and networking. Art sales are split evenly between the featured artists and the nonprofit.

Last Friday, the art-focused happy hour continued bringing notoriety to community artists with a gallery show by Kris and Keagoe Stith. The 20-year-old twins from Anacostia showed mixed media pieces, including acrylic paintings, charcoal drawings and digital prints. Sales from their artwork benefited Words, Beats & Life, a nonprofit that empowers and educates youth through hip-hop. The organization is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Its founder and executive director Mazi Mutafa says of the Stith brothers artwork: “They don't just create work to spread their message but they champion that message.”

Kris Stith, an American University student, attended in person, while his brother Keagoe, a student of Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York, joined virtually via Skype.

The Long & Foster offices near the Eastern Market Metro hosted the event, a tradition that started with an inauguration party in 2009, which has evolved into monthly casual community events. Event organizer Maceo Thomas, a Long & Foster real estate, has been lending this space out to artists and nonprofits for more than two years. He says he wanted to do something different to support the community and started bringing in artists to create a “guerilla gallery,” where every available surface is used to display artwork. These events not only give attention to the artists but also support a cause. Maceo says the shows are a win-win situation: "It's good exposure for both the artists and the nonprofits.”

NOT JUST ART FOR ART'S SAKE

Last Friday's event was the brothers' first official show. Their work showed a diversity of subject matter in different mediums because, as Kris says, “[the brothers] are scattered around and mixed up.” Their grandmother, Christine Stith, laughs when she sees one of Kris's paintings. “The boys always had a weird sense of humor,” she says.

The humor definitely comes through in their art work. One painting hung on the wall depicts two vibrantly hued, big-bootied and bikini-clad women. Kris has a different take on this painting. He says he wants to avoid the label of being a “black artist." At the same time, he plays with the stereotype and irony in his piece noting, “What's blacker than a black artist painting pictures of big butts?”

Kris specializes in well-rendered detail portraiture, transitioning from still life pieces into more graphic and stylized paintings, while Keagoe specializes in digital prints done in a pop art style. However, both of them are committed to expressing political and social commentary through their work. Kris says this is because they grew up in a socially conscious household in the Anacostia neighborhood of southeast Washington, D.C., where “there are a vast number of problems plaguing the area." From a young age, the brothers started making pamphlets to educate other kids in the area on a variety of topics. Keagoe notes that the two have been “an unstoppable team” ever since.

The social commentary of their early community work still echoes in their current art. With two related charcoal drawings, Keagoe tells the story of gentrification in D.C. In the first piece, “There Goes Our Memories,” Keagoe depicts a single family home being torn down. The next piece, “Gentrification in All Its Splendor,” shows the aftermath of this destruction as an expensive high-rise apartment building that people from the community cannot afford to live in. He says he attempts to “[capture] the spectacle of destroying a house, destroying the personal and replacing it with the commercial.” Keagoe's charcoal pieces are also rooted in history, conjuring up the famous sepia-toned images of the Great Depression.

Kris' paintings, shown in bright colors, also deal with a number of social and political issues, including the right to privacy, gangs and political affiliations. "The best way to bring awareness is to bring the information to the unaware," Kris says. "To arm people with knowledge. Keep informing people and a murmur can become a roar, a roar becomes a scream, and that scream will be heard somehow, somewhere,” with the hope of bringing about change.

For future events at the Long & Foster offices, contact Maceo Thomas at MaceoThomas [at] gmail [dot] com.

To learn more about the featured nonprofit: http://www.wblinc.org To learn more about the artists: http://www.stithbrothers.com Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.