The portrayal of Black bodies on the information generally has been connected to violence and dying, but a Highland Park-based artist is trying to alter that.

“Since 2016, I have been doing work on a physique of operate titled ‘Infinite Essence,’ which transfigures Black bodies from web sites of condition violence and death — which we have witnessed in a lot of photos of George Floyd, Michael Brown, and many others. — into vessels of everlasting lifetime, employing a blend of fluorescent and ultraviolet photography,” suggests Mikael Owunna, who describes himself as “a queer Nigerian-Swedish-American photographer and engineer, born and elevated in Pittsburgh.”

Owunna was the recipient of a grant from Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh, a joint venture of The Pittsburgh Basis and The Heinz Endowments.

He’s remodeled his acclaimed get the job done into a new community artwork task titled, “Infinite Essence: Celestial Liberation.” From June 18-30, the do the job will show up on 11 digital billboards and kiosks across the town to coincide with Juneteenth (the June 19th holiday celebrating the emancipation of African-Us citizens from slavery). The artwork will also be featured at Pittsburgh Intercontinental Airport, the Pittsburgh Glass Center, Silver Eye Middle for Photography and Every day Cafe.


‘Innekouzou’ (2017) from “Infinite Essence: Celestial Liberation” by Mikael Owunna.

The plan was to “challenge these unfavorable media visuals and stereotypes about the Black entire body, and then bring these cosmic photos to the broader Pittsburgh space,” states Owunna.

Employing his engineering background, Owunna designed a camera flash that only transmits ultraviolet light. He starts off each individual photoshoot by hand-portray his models’ bodies with fluorescent paints.

“The bodies glow,” claims Owunna. “They emerge from the blackness they glow that for a portion of a next, that’s captured onto the digital camera sensor, and then they disappear again into the blackness.”

Mikael Owunna

“The Flying African” (2018) from “Infinite Essence: Celestial Liberation” by Mikael Owunna.

New York Town-dependent curator Larry Ossei-Mensah and Columbus-dependent Orange Barrel Media (which owns the digital billboards) wished to make the “Infinite Essence” visuals available to, perfectly, every person driving on the roadways in Pittsburgh.

“My background prior to coming to curating was performing in advertising media,” states Ossei-Mensah. “So for me, this is variety of like a typical room to kind of see illustrations or photos, have interaction with visual culture. And so, this venture was in fact an possibility to disrupt that.”

Ossei-Mensah cites a 2010 examine that identified that 89% of museum audiences were being white. So this was a way to interact with communities outside a gallery environment.


“Pittsburgh is a driving metropolis,” states Ossei-Mensah. “We’re performing 101 issues when we’re driving. And why not have one thing that, you know, confronts you to be conscious of this dialogue. But then also with any luck , will invite you to talk to queries like, ‘What is this, what is ‘Infinite Essence,’ who is Mikael?’”

Mikael Owunna. Photograph by Nick Caito.

There will be some public situations, much too. On June 18, Owunna will take part in a Juneteenth Art Truthful from 4 to 8 p.m. at Town of Asylum on the North Side, and on June 19, he will lead a brunch dialogue from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Day to day Cafe in Homewood.

See extra Juneteeth occasions at NEXTpittsburgh.


Black art PittsburghJuneteenthMikael OwunnaOrange Barrel MediaPittsburgh public art

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