Jan. 28 2014 06:16 PM

Graffiti artist and painter's new politically charged work will make you uncomfortable

Mr. Maxx Moses
Photo by Catherine Koch

Artist Mr. Maxx Moses (who also goes by his graffiti pseudonym, Pose 2) is known for his colorful, large-scale murals of abstract imagery and serene, beautiful compositions. The same recognizable aesthetic is there in Good Morning America, his gorgeous solo show opening from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 30, at Southwestern College Art Gallery (900 Otay Lakes Road in Chula Vista), but there are some shocking messages imbedded in his controversial new work.

The words "Nigga for Sale" in one of the large, mixed-media pieces will certainly catch your attention. A billboard-size portrayal of a black man wearing an iron collar around his neck might give you pause, as well.

"My goal is to make people uncomfortable," Moses says, pointing out some of the more poignant imagery, like the text pulled from an actual ad offering for-sale an enslaved teenage girl that he found while doing research for the show. "I think it's healthy to be uncomfortable, because that's when you're in the position to learn something."

Moses started working on the pieces in Good Morning America in 2012. He'd never been interested in political artwork, but he was asked to create a piece for a show themed on Barack Obama's reelection. It got him thinking about how, especially with the election of a black president, everyone seems to think America is doing well in terms of race relations and equality. He knows it's not a new idea, but he doesn't think it gets discussed enough.

"I think we have a lot of concepts in our head in regards to America, like, everything is all good right now and racism is gone," says Moses, standing by a stunning, three-dimensional piece that incorporates an African mask and a turntable. "I'm, like, Oh, really? I don't think so. I think that slavery exists now, but it's so subversive; it's so subtle that we're not even aware of what's going on anymore. The game has gotten so slick. It has nothing to do with color or sex anymore; it's a big economic-slave game going on. We're all in it now. We're all the new American niggas."

Moses wants to be sure people get the show's message, or at least start thinking about economic inequality, so he's included in-depth descriptions to be displayed next to each piece. He also created a soundtrack to be played while the exhibition remains on view through Feb. 25 (find details about the closing event and parking tips at swccd.edu). On top of that, there's a short film about Moses that'll be looped during the exhibition, and during the opening and closing receptions, he'll activate the space through the use of a makeshift storefront, where he'll comment on—and take advantage of—capitalism as he sells products he created, including his Act Right drink.

"It's an anti-nigger tonic," says Moses, raising his eyebrows in reaction to his own words. "It cures self-hate, inferiority complex, high blood pressure, diabetes—all the things that black Americans are susceptible to."

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