MLK Artist Series Centers Art As Activism - Black Lives Matter
Watercolor painting of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King sitting at a table by Derrick Adams

MLK Artist Series Centers Art As Activism

The MLK artist series asks us to collectively remember Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. not just as an iconic Civil Rights leader, but as a human being full of love, joy, play, and healing. In honor of Dr. King, we have collaborated with six Black artists to highlight work that reflects what is possible for Black life.

The curators of this artist series invite you to consider the following questions:

  • Who are we when we are relaxed, reflective, rested, and leisurely? 
  • Who are we when we are LIVING? 

Our movement is not about Black death, but rather, Black Life. This series is an active reminder of the joy, play, and leisure always present in our community, even amidst struggle. We will not let white supremacists steal our joy, bind our faith, or destroy our love. This series reminds us of who we are fully.

— Patrisse Cullors and Noni Limar 

Jump to each MLK Art Series Artists and learn about their practice, politics and their work:

Derrick Adams

Watercolor painting of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King sitting at a table by Derrick Adams
MLK’s Tropic Interlude (Martin and Coretta), 2021
(mixed media on paper)

This piece is inspired by a 1967 Ebony Magazine article titled, MLK’s Tropic Interlude. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, for three weeks working “most of the day until way into night” to finish his book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? During the last week of his stay, his wife Coretta joined him, and they enjoyed moments of leisure: lounging by the ocean, cooling off in the pool, and dining at a cliffside terrace. The images are important because the most familiar images of MLK show him during his fight for our civil rights. These rare images from Jamaica are a necessary reminder that during our challenging work toward equality, we must also spend time in restorative self-reflection and regeneration, in order to continue and thrive.

Derek Adams Website | IG

Chief Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah

In this video, five-time Grammy-nominated sonic architect and trumpeter Chief Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah premieres the new Adjuah Bow, talks MLK, the beauty of our history and traditions, reevaluation in the era of misinformation, and love and reverence for Black women.

Chief Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah Website | Extended Bio

Nikki Blak

As the descendant of a child of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, not only do I reap the socio-political benefits of the foundation laid by King and his peers, but I am, like so many, also incredibly inspired by his legacy.

In these times of radical social change, it’s only right that we would reflect on and honor the work of such an iconic leader and movement.

Read full poem here.

Nikki Blak Website | IG

Melanie Charles

Watch short archival film by Melanie Charles that features vocals and lyricism that exposes the power of self love and truth telling.

Brooklyn based singer, songwriter, and producer Melanie Charles continues her sonic journey to “make jazz trill again” with a meditation on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, Where Do We Go From Here? In a letter to her higher self, she flows into a mantra to “chill in love,” reinforcing the need for Black joy, care, and relaxation along the road to freedom.

Melanie Charles Website | IG

Rodney Diverlus

Artmaker and multidisciplinary artist Rodney Diverlus shares  an improvisation, meditation, and dance party with and for MLK. Diverlus uses Dr. King’s final ‘mountaintop’ speech from 1968, and Ravyn Wngz’s viral press intervention in 2020 as acts of remembrance, of solemnity and release.

Concept/performance by @Rodney Diverlus, phone camera assistance by @Tory_a_, words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1968) and @ravynwngz (2020).

Rodney Diverius IG

Shaina Simmons

Twerk on Washington is a declaration of freedom and healing. Advocating for the decolonization of oversexualized Black women’s bodies and the reclamation of ancient, sacred dances of liberation and wellness, while sampling Dr. King’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech delivered at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, this piece declares that the shame of traditional African practices is not ours! Trauma is kept in the body, shake it off.

Produced by Chandel | @mynameischandel
Videography by Deondre | @deondres.gallery

Shaina Simmons Website