Vitus Shell: 'Bout It 'Bout It, The Political Power of Just Being
Dec 06, 2019 — May 02, 2020
The tone of Shell’s portraits and political aims are carefully calculated. Time and again, he portrays his sitters as self-possessed, questioning individuals whose humanity shines. Those depicted dominate the foreground and serve as a counterpoint to a background of collaged newspaper articles and advertisements filled with bigoted or at least misunderstood accounts of African Americans. The aspirational, thoughtful body language, rendered with verisimilitude by Shell, stands in stark contrast to the flat, colorless, and stereotype-ridden caricatures of black bodies found in the largely historical sources he uses for his backgrounds. Presenting his portraits in this fashion empowers his sitters, and by association the African American community, to reject limited two-dimensional depictions of themselves for ones in which they are interlocutors with their past and present struggles, while being in dialogue with the American Dream on their terms.