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NPR & IOWA PUBLIC RADIO: Getting personal and political with b. Robert Moore

Published July 2, 2024 at 4:05 PM CDT

Madeleine Charis King / Iowa Public Radio

For b. Robert Moore, art is personal — and political.

The Des Moines-based artist does not shy away from sharing the scars of his past in his new exhibition “In Loving Memory,” on display at the Des Moines Art Center through Oct. 20.

On a personal level, Moore’s body of work pulls from deeply rooted family trauma, but also from moments of joy. Visitors exploring the exhibition will eventually find themselves in the middle of a living room — a replica of his grandmother’s — where they can watch old home videos on the couch and even take a piece of hard candy on the way out.

In the next room, a different kind of video plays on a loop. It’s Moore and his mother, talking as adults in front of a family portrait he painted. The painting shows Moore as a young boy, sitting between his father and mother, only his mother is near impossible to make out.

It’s revealed in their recorded conversation that she abandoned him in his youth. The painting, entitled Without a Shadow of Doubt (Daddy's Boy), was his way of reconciling her absence.

“Life and death, the dichotomy of life and death, of black and white, of presence and absence, of light and dark, to me, are very connected,” Moore said about the overarching themes of the new exhibit.

B. Robert Moore/Instagram

Moore wrote on Instagram that his painting, Without a Shadow of Doubt (Daddy's Boy), is based on one of the only photographs he had of himself, his mother and his father all "happy" together.

Tribute and protest

While exploring his identity as a biracial man in America — and in the predominantly white state of Iowa, no less — Moore dissects the American experience through a racial, social and spiritual lens. He taps into universal themes of visibility and erasure, innocence and war, violence, loss and legacy.

In one corner of the exhibition, black granite tombstones, lined up like soldiers, stand before a wall of folded flags. Most of the headstones are unmarked, anonymous. But two are etched with the words:

Involuntary Veteran of the United States of America

Husband Father Son Brother and Friend

In Loving Memory

Pan-African flags are framed and hung in neat rows up and down the wall. Each is marked with the name of a Black American killed at the hands of police.

Madeleine Charis King / Iowa Public Radio

Involuntary State features 34 black granite polished headstones, 13x4 inches each.

Madeleine Charis King / Iowa Public Radio

Every Ni**a A Star from "Out the Mud" features 50 oak flag cases with personalized Pan-African flags in honor of those who lost their lives to police violence.

Madeleine Charis King / Iowa Public Radio

What's Done In The Dark Will Come To Light is a neon lit noose hanging from the ceiling.

To Moore, the two installations function as equal parts tribute and protest.

“As both a Black American and also a veteran of the United States Army, it is my civil duty to use art as a form of peaceful protest, to look at the truth and present my findings in a different light in public space,” he said.

Moore first started exploring art as a form of protest in 2020 with the project “Harvesting Humanity,” in which he projected dozens of images of Black Americans on grain silos in rural Iowa.

“There are art forms that can promote change and are great forms of protest,” Moore said. “But if you look through my body of work, I'm always protesting. I’m doing it subtly. I’m doing it diplomatically.”

Filling the gaps

For Moore, growing up in both Des Moines and its surrounding suburbs played a key role in shaping his perspective as an artist.

“That drastic cultural difference heavily shaped my environment — because I have a lot of experience with a diverse set of castes, environments and groups of people, growing up in my adolescence,” Moore explained. “As I got older, that completely switched on me, and I had to adjust. So I think Des Moines, Iowa — both — the environment, the geography, the culture, I think interpersonally, my family, the interracial structure, my identity and my race, my experiences in life, all shaped the body of my work.”

It’s a body of work that embraces an extremely vulnerable and personal point of view — a point of view that Moore believes has been ignored in the art world for far too long.

“I am painting what I think is missing, what there needs to be more of in the world,” he said. “That’s a very, very big obligation I feel like artists and creators should have, to fill any gaps we feel are missing through our own expression, through our own form, through our own eyes, through our own experiences, but make sure we're not filling the world up with a lot of the same.”

For Laura Burkhalter, senior curator at the Des Moines Art Center, that highly personal point of view is what makes Moore’s body of work stand out from other contemporary artists.

“Robert's work is direct. He's telling his story, but he's also telling stories about America and about social issues,” Burkhalter said. “He's using this personal narrative and personal imagery to tell a story that is going to appeal to and speak to a lot of people. And that sort of really raw emotion is not necessarily something you see in a lot of contemporary art.”



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