"I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids - and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me."
In 1952, Ralph Ellison addressed the treatment of black men in America through these words from his novel “Invisible Man.” The book is now over 65 years old, but unfortunately, its message still rings true today.
However, artist Ricardo Lewis has spent the last five years working to change this view by creating art that challenges viewers to connect with black men. Lewis’ portraits feature black men in front of a plain, nondescript background, devoid of the visual cues that viewers would usually use to make assumptions about the paintings' subjects. He hopes that the absence of a setting will force viewers to set aside any preconceptions, instead focusing on the men themselves.
Although Lewis spent years studying art, earning both his BA and his MS, he went on to work in higher education administration for almost 30 years before recently retiring. While watching his students struggle to navigate the college system and be seen as individuals, he found inspiration to return to painting. Most of the subjects of his paintings are students he worked with at Illinois State University, his former employer.
With so many distractions in our daily lives, Lewis worries that “people don’t take the time to look at each other,” which is the first step in getting to know someone. His goal for his exhibit is to encourage Northwestern students to stop and see the subjects of the paintings before taking this experience with them into their everyday lives.
(In)Visible Men will be on display in the Dittmar Gallery, located inside Norris on the first floor. This free exhibit will be open to the public every day from 10 a.m.–10 p.m. until it closes on March 22. For the full experience, follow Lewis’s suggestion and attend the exhibit by yourself. Who knows what you may find when you finally see the invisible.