The Maroon

“Ephemeral” exhibit showcases the African-American experience

Martin+Luther+King+Jr.+stares+into+the+eyes+of+his+wife+Coretta+Scott+King+in+twin+portraits+featuring+the+words+%22love+supreme.%22+Odums%27+latest+exhibit+will+be+on+display+at+Studio+Be+until+January.+Photo+credit%3A+Daniel+Williams
Martin Luther King Jr. stares into the eyes of his wife Coretta Scott King in twin portraits featuring the words

Martin Luther King Jr. stares into the eyes of his wife Coretta Scott King in twin portraits featuring the words "love supreme." Odums' latest exhibit will be on display at Studio Be until January. Photo credit: Daniel Williams

Martin Luther King Jr. stares into the eyes of his wife Coretta Scott King in twin portraits featuring the words "love supreme." Odums' latest exhibit will be on display at Studio Be until January. Photo credit: Daniel Williams

Daniel Williams

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On the thin line between the Marigny and the Bywater, walking distance from the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts High School (NOCCA), is a young girl with her arms stretched outward. She wears a necklace that reads “light,” and if you stare long enough, you begin to feel as though she was floating above you. Behind her curly hair lies a cushion-like halo.

The mural on the façade of local art studio Studio Be is one of street-artist Brandan Odums’ most recognizable works. His bold color choices, heady subject matter and hyperreal depictions of the African-American experience have gained him attention locally and nationally.

“The cool thing about spray paint is that it’s hard to completely control,” said Odums, discussing his medium. “I feel like it can go so many ways because I’m not one hundred percent in control. Being on that edge makes it exciting for me.”

Odums, born and raised in New Orleans, has been surrounded by art for most of his life. He studied animation and filmmaking at NOCCA, but said that his appetite for creating art was fostered by the musicians he’d shoot music videos for.

“It came from seeing rappers and entertainers. They literally wake up every day and write and create and make music; like, this is beautiful,” Odems said.

Odums gained attention with his 2013 manifesto “Project Be.” The exhibition was held in the shell of what was the Florida Housing Project in the Lower 9th Ward.

“Project Be was the beginning. It was basically organic. It was like dancing,” he said.

In a decaying low-income project, Odums created illustrious depictions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, James Baldwin and Muhammad Ali, along with Jay-Z, Nina Simone and many other familiar, black faces.

“I never went to a lot of art shows when I was younger that had a lot of paintings that look like me,” he said. “I don’t see any black faces so I want you to see nothing but super black faces.”

His next project was Exhibit Be. In another abandoned complex, he was given permission to use the structure as his canvas, along with 35 other street artists. Odems’ website reports that over 30,000 people visited the spectacle.

Today, all of his art lives at 2941 Royal St. in a warehouse he’s named Studio Be. Along with art from his previous exhibitions, he is showcasing his latest and first solo project, entitled “Ephemeral Eternal.”

It’s no wonder the socially conscious art show has attracted students from Loyola. Miles Rouen, business junior, heard about Studio Be after seeing it on his friend’s Snapchat story.

“It was cool to see figures in history depicted in that way. Some I knew and others I didn’t,” Rouen said.

Inside, baronial portraits tower over you. Some border on psychedelic as they are imagined with spectacular colors. While your eyes read the messages embedded behind portraits of great leaders, listen closely as Maya Angelou recites “Still I Rise” softly in your ear.

On a mock basketball court, lottery balls line the wall, and next to them a puff of smoke coming from a deflated B-ball reads, “1/3 black males will go to prison in their lifetime. 3/10,000 will go to the NBA.”

Martin Luther King Jr. stares into the eyes of his wife Coretta Scott King in twin portraits featuring the words "love supreme." Odums' latest exhibit will be on display at Studio Be until January. Photo credit: Daniel Williams

On the next wall, a crowd of black and white DJ Khaleds are portrayed with blocks of text that further illustrate this message. But not all of what is there is jarring.

Ultimately, the place is one of self-healing. Walking into a giant letter “B” in a dark place where a single flame flickers, there is a note encouraging each patron to write down a burden or stronghold in their life and throw it into the flames. It’s sister letter “E” is brightly lit and shrouded in notes of self-love and encouragement. The only other thing inside is a mirror.

The centerpiece of the 35,000-square-foot gallery are twin paintings of Coretta and Martin Luther King Jr. They stare into each other’s eyes from opposite sides of the room with the words “love supreme” written on each piece respectively.

The beauty of Odum’s work is it’s ability to make heavy art accessible to all.

The studio is open four days a week, Wednesday through Saturday, from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. The student fee to enter is $8, and the exhibit will be closing this January.

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“Ephemeral” exhibit showcases the African-American experience