Interviews

Soundbites of Recent History

Artist Leon Reid IV has a way with images. When he’s not remixing the urban environment, he’s playing with the context of art institutions that commission his work, which he always injects with a political or social message. His latest print series, Recent History, is a little of both. Political and clever, biting and tragic, Reid IV has massaged recent events into the infographic simplicity, are they too simple?

If some of his editions are centered on American events — like painting the White House black to commemorate the 2008 US Presidential election or New Orleans’ characteristic fleur-de-lis half-submerged in water as a commentary on Hurricane Katrina — the others look at events in Sudan, Japan, North Africa and Europe.

The prints themselves are on sale via his site, but I was eager to ask him a few questions about his striking images and his thoughts about the world today.

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Leon Reid IV, "Wall Street 2008" (2012) (via leonthe4th.com)

Hrag Vartanian: What did you want to communicate with this series?

Leon Reid IV: With the “Recent History” prints I wanted to present a very graphic way of explaining the most important global events of our time. I am known more for my public sculpture but I think graphically so this design series was the quickest way for me to reflect what is going on in the world right now.

HV: Do you think Americans are more or less aware of the world around them than they were a few years ago?

LR IV: I think so. I can certainly say that I am more aware of the world around me as having witnessed the destruction on 9/11 and just living in Brooklyn for the past 12 years has really opened my eyes. Listening to public radio 16 hours a day while I work is also informative.

HV: What inspires you among the global events in the last year?

LR IV: I think the revolutions in North Africa and then across the Arab world were truly inspiring. I went to Egypt in 1997 and I remember seeing Mubarak’s image plastered everywhere — omnipresent and unavoidable. Not that Egypt is perfect right now, but they are on the path to greater freedoms.

HV: What worries you?

LR IV: I’m worried about all this nuclear trash talk between America and Iran, we just pulled out of one mid-east country and were allowing ourselves to get lulled lulled back into another conflict there. I think America at this point is comparable to the British Empire circa 1945; a world power knocked off balance by two costly wars.

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