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Black History

Presidential paintings

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Norine Dworkin

Editor in Chief

Monday, January 15, 2024


Norine Dworkin

Artist Patrick Noze with his painting, Preventing Our Extinction: Heroes, in the Reflections Through Time II exhibit that he curated for Black History Month at Winter Garden City Hall.

Patrick Noze has fit more than two centuries of Black history into his 36-inch by 48-inch canvas, Preventing Our Extinction: Heroes, on display through February 29 as part of the Reflections Through Time II exhibit in Winter Garden City Hall’s Art in Public Places Gallery.

Noze, a third-generation painter and sculptor from from Haiti, studied art in New York City and is now senior gallery curator for the Crealdé School of Art in Winter Park. He curated the exhibit for Black History Month.

Preventing Our Extinction: Heroes is the first of a three-panel narrative in acrylic that spotlights Black historical figures. It pictures a scaffolding held up by leaders and achievers — Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Thurgood Marshall, among many others in sports, science and entertainment — on whose shoulders the Obama family stands at the White House. An Obama daughter is pictured leaning down to pull another young woman up to the top level.

The right side of the painting, across from the tower of heroes, is all dark browns and somber tones. It's dominated by quarters for the enslaved and a giant tree with a noose. But in the darkness, Noze also painted bright spots of Black invention and discovery, like the stethoscope, the traffic light, a locomotive and computer to represent Black contributions to industry and science — a part of history not typically taught in schools. Above everything, looms America’s bald eagle, talons out. There's a good amount of stylized blood. 

“[The painting] talks about oppression with the claw, showing that there’s still aggression,” Noze told VoxPopuli at the exhibit's opening reception Jan. 11. “Naturally, the struggle is not over. It's a never-ending battle. It’s a free country. It’s free. We’re free. But there’s still a claw.”

In the second of the three paintings, Noze has replaced Black historical figures holding up the scaffolding with a rainbow coalition of regular people working toward racial equity and justice. Crows have replaced the eagle, but there is also a dove, a symbol of hope and peace. In the third painting, it’s Black angels who shoulder the scaffolding as Barack and Michelle Obama join Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X in the heavens.

The triptych was commissioned for the Obamas personal art collection in 2015. Rules barring gifts over $25 prevented the Obamas from accepting the artwork while still in the White House, so the paintings have been traveling in other exhibitions.

“After this show, they’ll most likely go to the president,” Noze said.

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