Alfred Conteh's painting Malik and Marquis (2020) features twin brothers who Conteh met on the West End of Atlanta. When he met them, they were attending Sylvan Middle School, a new school. However, considering the economic realities brought on by the COVID-19 Pandemic, they are statistically unlikely to be able to continue at that school. Black unemployment and the bankruptcy of more than 40% of local Black businesses in the wake of the Pandemic will undoubtedly cause a wave of evictions and foreclosures, as the parents of kids like Malik and Marquis become unable to afford rent or the rising property taxes. Conteh expresses this reality with the severing of the boys' legs. Says Conteh, "Their support system will be moved out from underneath them. The erosion, the erasure, is indicative of the fact that they were once whole, but now they're not."
This painting is one of the latest in a series titled “Two Fronts.” For this series, Conteh paints the people that he meets where he lives and works in Atlanta. He presents his subjects as they really are, yet allegory is embedded heavily within the materiality of his work. His materials include battery acid, rust and metal dust, giving the surfaces of his paintings a quality similar to that of the decaying, neglected buildings that dot the landscape of the neighborhoods captured in his paintings. This is not just an aesthetic choice, but a call for viewers to confront the reality of the world we all live in.
Says Conteh, "The way I look at my work is they're not just paintings, they're reminders. They should be reminders to everyone who looks at them, that this is the reality of Black folks in this country right now. Specifically the Black folks whose shared experience is as the descendants of slaves. You should be reminded. Me, you, and everybody who lives here as Americans. There is a group of people who are American in name, but who are not American in practice. If you have this painting on your wall, what you should say to yourself is is there are people living like this. This is their reality every day. What should I do to make these folks American just like me? If you’re white, ask what should I do to make these folks who built this country American just like me so they have the same rights, privileges and protections, just like me. When it comes to the bleakness, I want people to see themselves in this work. See that poverty, see those stresses, see the disrepair. If we're going to talk about equality in this country, let it start with me."