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Neo-Ancestralist Portraits

Neo-Ancestralist Portraits

An installation by Jimi Jones, Ken Leslie, and Thomas Phelps, three African-American artists whose mission is to produce art based on ancient and contemporary cultures, to work together collaboratively and to demonstrate the improvisational nature of the African- American creative process.

In 1989, Jones, Leslie, and Phelps founded the Neo-Ancestralist Artists Group with the express purpose of perpetuating native culture artistically, by producing art forms based on ancient and contemporary cultures, and socially, by becoming a positive influence in the community and a resource for black imagery. Since that time, the artists have built a strong reputation for both the creative energy of their installations and a particular esthetic that blends ancient African culture with contemporary urban imagery.

By combining found objects with carefully executed sculptural and painted forms utilizing bold colors and ritualistic artifacts, the artists will produce an elaborate setting for the Weston Art Gallery that includes small rooms, altars, and strange maze-like spaces. This multi-layered work, awe-inspiring in its complexity and splendid in its detail, is designed to lead the viewer into an active engagement with the past and the present, and to suggest the possibilities available in worship and reflection.

The work of these artists speaks to a variety of people and incorporates many voices. Jones talks about the pleasure of being “a part of a small art movement of African-American artists whose art is based on the search for ancestral truths, both modern and ancient.” Leslie, who is also a musician, expresses his understanding of “the significance of discordant combinations to produce a solid harmonic presence,” while Phelps comments on his use of “a wide range of materials to complement the diversified expressive manner of a single soul” so he can stay in touch with “the reality of life.”

download the Artist's Statement Panel