Those who follow the art scene in Nashville are likely familiar with Omari Booker. He’s a graduate of Montgomery Bell Academy and Tennessee State University; a visual artist whose work is regularly exhibited in the area; and he has served as a local curator, instructor and founder of the Jefferson Street Art Crawl.
Booker’s work often reflects issues of race and class in America, usually through a lens that is unique to his experience in Nashville. He ‘s framed portraits of African Americans using salvaged wood from demolished houses in Germantown and North Nashville and reflected on discriminatory lending practices in a local mural art project. The latest exhibition of his work here, a solo show called “Red Line” on view at Channel To Channel gallery until December 14, 2019, again elevates an issue of social justice that touches much of the country, including his hometown.
“The name [of the show] refers to the federal government’s creation of color-coded maps from the 1930s seeking to expand homeownership in America’s metropolitan areas,” according to a press release shared by the gallery. “The maps delineated areas preferred for investment based on racial and ethnic populations. Those deemed suitable for investment were outlined in blue or green while areas less desirable or considered hazardous were outlined in red.”
A historical map showing designations from the federal government’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation between 1935 and 1940 illustrates 48 percent of Nashville in red, including its northern and eastern neighborhoods.
Booker’s work for “Red Line” includes oil portraits on wood, outlined with red razor wire. It’s a material he used to accentuate societal barriers in a mural for Frist Art Museum’s “Murals of North Nashville Now” exhibition. In a historical context, the intention might be plain — figures of historic segregation literally oppressed by violent material. But, as he often does, Booker has also made a salient point about contemporary society that may be more uncomfortable and critical to grapple with.
“Booker believes current development, though no longer driven by redlining, still follows in the spirit of segregation,” Nashville’s News Channel 5 reported. “Especially when the development involves brand new modern homes popping up in historically black neighborhoods.”
In Redskin, for instance, the history of segregation against Indigenous Americans comes quickly to mind. But Booker’s portrait for the piece is nearly identical to the logo of the Washington Redskins, a professional football team that has maintained the same controversial moniker since 1933. In this piece, it’s clear that the segregating practices that were once commonplace in the country have left a lasting legacy to still be addressed.
“As [my work for the show] progressed, I investigated how division based on race has affected nearly every aspect of society in the United States,” Booker explained in a statement provided by the gallery.
Channel to Channel is located at 507 Hagan Street in We-Ho.