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Vitus Shell

Monroe, LA
2007 MFA Grant Recipient

Artist's Statement (2013)

In my work, I strive to bridge the gap between the older and younger generations by exploring and uncovering factors that contributed to the unfortunate relationship breakdown between the two. Moreover, my work examines parallels between present day behaviors and attitudes that date back to African roots. My motive is to compel viewers to reconsider behaviors that are stereotypically regarded as Black. Viewers will walk away with a newfound meaning of the term, “Black.”

Through analogy, my work analyzes the local arrest paper and compares it to that of a high school yearbook. Using hip-hop lyrics as the basis of the works, my artistic goal is to exude the hip-hop lifestyle with a southern vernacular.


As an African American male, it seems that jail has become the rite of passage into manhood. According to statistics, there were 2,193,798 people in the U.S. prison system. In that, out of every 100,000 prisoners, 2,468 of them were African American men in comparison to the 409 White males per 100,000 prisoners. In Chris Rock’s Bring the Pain, a groundbreaking 1996 HBO television special, he jokes about how some blacks have more respect for people who return home from prison than those who earn Master’s degrees. Obviously, Rock was using hyperbole to get laughs, but he made a valid point about the need for greater emphasis on academic achievement in some segments of black society. Today, jail equivalency to graduation is a direct reflection of how deep rooted the prison system is in the African American male psyche.

All works are copyright of the artist or artist’s estate.