ArtNewsThe NorthSider

Artist Cbabi’s positive black male images counter Ferguson biases

ST. LOUIS – Artist and businessman Cbabi Bayoc isn’t exactly a starving artist, but he’s no opportunist either.  

He has a portfolio that boasts an original painting of an album cover for the late Prince. Another big-time client has been Erykah Badu (with whom Cbabi attended Grambling State University). Then there’s Island Def Jam, Violator Records, Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch. 

The list goes on for Cbabi, mostly known for his jazzy, music-based paintings and positive fatherly and familial images. 

He is also now known for work he did in response to the unrest in Ferguson. 

When Michael Brown Jr. was killed by a police officer on Aug. 9, 2014, sparking an uprising, Cbabi was inspired but didn’t veer far from the virtuous father figures. His now-iconic painting depicts a spirited black man with a son around his shoulder and another at his legs. On the father’s shirt are the words “RIP son.”  The painting references both Brown and Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager who was killed in 2012 by a neighborhood watch captain.

“It was to represent all the parents who were losing their children based on America’s fear of black men and black youth,” Cbabi said.  

“I was inspired to think about how I could react to what was going on without painting something obviously about Michael Brown, but more about the overall feel,” he explained.

When he finished the piece, people had to have to it. He could have sold an attache case full of prints, but that wasn’t his motivation nor an option. 

Instead, he set up a GoFundMe account to pay for printing, and he gave the prints away. He made them available at his wife’s bake shop, SweetArt, 2203 South 39th St. in the Shaw neighborhood of south St. Louis, and at area barbershops. 

“I just felt like it was the right thing to do,” he said. “It just didn’t feel right making money off that image.”

The same goes for his 2019 painting in honor of the fifth anniversary of Brown’s death. The laid-back, mild-mannered, prolific artist is again giving away prints; and again, his work is a loud and proud depiction of fatherhood. 

The Northsider hung out and witnessed the creating of the untitled work in Cbabi’s studio in the lower level of Nebula, a shared work space at 3407 South Jefferson Ave.

He carefully brushed the white canvas, creating an image of familial black males lives mattering. A father’s and son’s hands came together to form the heart, a dove. 

“This came off of a conversation I was having with someone who showed me a picture of a dove that was set free at the first-year anniversary,” Cbabi explained. In about an hour, he was nearly done.

Ferguson isn’t the only area that has prompted Cbabi to brush up against social and racial incidents. His “Young Cornrows in America” series, a spinoff from Ferguson, is his reaction to the death of Vonderrit Myers, who was killed Oct. 8, 2014, in south St. Louis by a police officer, again spurring protests. 

Cbabi said that when someone burned an American flag in the street, it seemed as if more people were more upset about the flag-burning than the life lost. This piece is an abstract blending of images of natural hair with the American flag. 

“It was just to show that our children aren’t treated with respect in this country,” he said. So, as with Ferguson, he took the opportunity to have it hang in protest on America’s walls.

Bill Beene Bill Beene was born and raised in north St. Louis. He has been a journalist for 12 years. He enjoys cooking and roller skating. He lives in the historic Ville neighborhood.

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