Vic Mensa Decolonizes Art With "Skin + Masks" Exhibit In Time For Juneteenth

Candace McDuffie, The Root, June 16, 2022


"The idea of Black and white, these ideas don’t come from our history," Mensa told The Root.


SKIN + MASKS, a group art show curated by Grammy-nominated rapper Vic Mensa, decolonizes Black art by focusing on our individuality independent of the white gaze. Inspired by Frantz Fanon’s 1952 groundbreaking book “Black Skin, White Masks,” SKIN + MASKS marks Mensa’s first time serving as curator for an exhibit. He tells The Root how important it was for him to elevate the uniqueness of Black experiences.


“I was thinking about the ways in which our destinies and our creations and our forms of expression as Black people—which are artistic and humanistic and empathetic and emotional—are so often flattened into a caricature of what people believe we are...what we sometimes believe we are. How everyone involved is limited by the narrow concepts of race that we live inside of. It is such a modern invention that was not our invention. The idea of Black and white, these ideas don’t come from our history.”


Taking place at Chicago’s Kavi Gupta Gallery, SKIN + MASKS will feature nearly 30 artists—all carefully handpicked by Mensa. 


Photo by Mahaneela.


“So many of the artists in the show are people that I know personally. It began with my personal relationships and then seeking the recommendations of those personal relationships...asking them who they rock with. Many of my personal friendships are [with] men and I can’t just have a show full of men. So then I started learning a lot more women artists and nonbinary artists. Artists from England, from Ghana, from South Africa. I also just moved from my intuition.”

Mikey Coleman, Whea the Wild Things Are. 2022.  

Although the show opens the day before Juneteenth, Mensa realizes that just because it’s now an official federal holiday doesn’t means this country is ready to tackle racism in any real way.


“I generally don’t believe in any capitalist American act of goodwill as far as trusting it, you know what I mean? America is not on a path to redemption and is not trying to answer for her sins. If America wanted to address critical race theory, then it would take concrete action in compensating the victims of America’s race hatred. You can’t have one without the other.”


Mensa’s influences, which range from Fanon’s catalogue to Saul Williams’ latest film, Neptune Frost, have undeniably shaped the way he has approached his unconventional artistry. He explains how it has changed over time. “My process of growth has just been learning how to have integrity. I can be a radical truthteller without always pointing the finger, which is something I didn’t understand in the past. I could stand for something without always being against someone.


I’ve been very outspoken. For many years, although my heart might have been in the right place what I was saying was overshadowed completely by controversy. I’ve just been like ‘let me reevaluate and re-approach how I’m conveying my message.’ I have found myself villainized most often because of my messaging—it wasn’t my message.”


With SKIN + MASKSthe rapper hopes to combat the negativity that our culture loves to engage in. “Let’s stop destroying Black men and Black women for just trying to live their lives. We live in this social media culture and it’s gotta be up to each of us as individuals to address and assess our relationship with it. Negativity is the algorithm, negativity moves the algorithm, negative things get more attention. But can we please stop destroying people for living their lives without hurting somebody else?”

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