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Ronald Draper is a contemporary artist uplifting youth and celebrating Black culture.
Ronald Draper is a contemporary artist uplifting youth and celebrating Black culture.Jarrod Anderson

Ronald Draper affirms Black lives.

His art is bold, vivid, and made of sacred messages for hoods forgotten, people erased, and Black joy to dance on walls and pins and shirts.

Draper’s work talks to us. He uses phrases and mixed media to express how we feel, collectively. I remember being at Miami Art Week two years ago and his work called to me across a crowd of hundreds, many stalls over. “The most beautiful things are made in the ghetto,” it read in gorgeous graffiti letters on a purple backdrop.

His work, in so many ways, acts as love notes to Black folk. And his messaging is often feminist with popular works like “A Black girl will save the world,” and “Sometimes the best gentleman for the job is a woman.”

This is his beautiful resistance.

What does Black joy mean?

Everything. It means resistance. It means togetherness. Black joy is tied to Black suffering. There is a duality. That is why we say “Black joy” and not “joy.” Because Black joy is joy in the face of things that don’t give us joy.

What makes your life a beautiful resistance?

As a Black man in this country, a beautiful resistance can be almost anything. Mainly, it’s me being me, unapologetically.

Does art play a role in justice work?

If you look at history books, they never, never get the context right. Art provides context, it tends to let you know how everybody felt. Art is what connects people. If we are talking about justice work and leaving a blueprint for justice work, art transcends. When you read, look at the photographs, the political posters, the literature. The art provides the context for the conversations we have had and will have.

Why is it essential to make room for rest in your life?

Without rest the work can’t be done. You can’t pour from an empty glass. Rest is something people take to be a treat but rest is part of the process, like putting gas in the car.

A year ago rest looked way different to me than it does now. Rest looks like taking time to do nothing, actively doing things that are not attached to work. As much as I love what I do, I have to find time to do other things. Traveling, eating, watching YouTube, or taking the top down for a drive on the West Side Highway in the car I helped build.

Get to know Ronald Draper at ronalddraperart.com.


Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com and on Twitter @sincerelyjenee.