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‘I just hope they see him as a human being’: Art exhibit to honor Michael Brown

FERGUSON – Five years. 60 months. 260 weeks. 1,825 days. Time has passed, but the pain still lingers. As the five-year anniversary of Michael Brown Jr.’s death approaches, for those who knew and loved Brown it still feels like yesterday.

The wound is still fresh for the Brown family. That’s one reason why Michael Sr.’s wife, Michael Jr.’s stepmother, Cal Brown, wanted to honor her stepson in her own unique way. 

On Thursday, Aug. 8, Brown is set to reveal “As I See You: A Tribute to Mike Brown Jr.,” an art exhibit created to honor, remember and humanize Michael Brown Jr.

The exhibit will include a life-size replica of the 18-year-old. It will also feature personal belongings including his high school cap and gown and tassel, some of his clothing and a pair of his headphones.

“I’ve been contemplating it in conversation for, like, 3 years,” Cal Brown said. “I feel like there should be a museum of him anyway. It should be historic, but I just wanted to start somewhere,” Brown said.

She acknowledges that she had no idea where to start in order to bring her vision to life, so she summoned the help of several area artivists, including Elizabeth Vega, the coordinator of the St. Louis Art House.

Brown said, “I sat back and I thought about it and I was like, ‘Okay, I know exactly what [I want to] do.’ So I said I needed a life-size replica of him. I had no idea how I was going to create that myself, so I thought about the artivists.” 

“They’ve been out here since Day 1 fighting for justice for Mike, creating all kinds of different art pieces and stuff, and I was, like, if anybody can do this in the short period of time I’m expecting it to be done, it’s going to be the artivists,” Brown went on to say.

“She wanted to memorialize him and humanize him, because the press has done so much to dehumanize him,” Vega said.

Vega said that after brainstorming the best way to create the sculpture in the shortest amount of time, they decided on papier-mache, using layers and layers of newspaper and glue. The project came together in about two and a half weeks.

Michael Brown Sr. posed for the first layer of the replica, acting as a model for his son’s sculpture. 

“It was emotional, but the people who surrounded us made the atmosphere exactly what it needed to be,” Cal Brown said. “They were sensitive to the situation. They constantly had us [talking] and laughing to really take our mind off that we were taking my husband’s body to create a replica of his son, which I think is something nobody wants to have to do.”

As of right now, the sculpture is in the middle of being formed. It will be complete with a carving of Michael Jr.’s face.

“People don’t realize that every day [for] the Browns is hard but this is like the hardest time of the year,” Cal Brown said.

Brown said the exhibit would represent Michael Brown Jr. as the generous young man that he was, alive and well.

“I just want people to really be respectful of the fact that this is real life for us and putting this exhibit together is going to be even harder for me,” Cal Brown said. “Just having to go through the boxes and go through his clothes and go through his shoes. He had this distinct smell. You open the box up and you smell him and it’s like, ‘Am I really [about] to do this,’” she asked.

For Cal Brown, opening a box filled with Mike Jr.’s belongings is like reopening an old wound.

“This is not only a tribute to Mike Brown, but it’s for his mom and his dad to see that somebody really loves them and they took the time to know who he really was and reflect it for the world.

“His parents have not been allowed to have their day in court. These people think [because] they give you a couple of dollars, that that’s justice. That’s not justice. This man needs to be held accountable.”

“As I see You” will open Aug. 8 at 5 p.m. to the media and national leaders at the Urban League Empowerment Center, 9420 West Florissant Avenue. 

“I’m hoping that people from all over the world come, and even though they might have one perspective coming in they’ll have a different perspective coming out,” Brown said. 

“Regardless of what you think he was, he belonged to us. He was somebody’s son, brother, cousin, nephew, friend … and I want people to respect that aspect of him.” 

Bria Gremillion

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