Voices

James Pate: The Ice Cube of Contemporary Art

The morning after the exhibit opening of Kin Killin’ Kin at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, I drove to Dayton, Ohio to gain a deeper understanding of the images from the artist James Pate.  I had no intentions on expressing my thoughts, yet I felt compelled and moved to do so.  Being a child of the Hip Hop generation, I discovered several similarities between Pate and O’Shea Jackson, famously known as Ice Cube.      

Ice Cube is often credited with shaping gangsta’ rap in the 90’s.  Nevertheless, his creative expression reflected the harsh realities occurring in many communities across the country.  I was 16 years-old when Ice Cube released his debut solo album, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. This classic album is laced with ground-level views of urban communities that are vivid, often frightening, revolutionary and very personal.  The most intense and thought provoking track on the album is Endangered Species (Tales from the Darkside), featuring Chuck D from Public Enemy.  This track reflects the social and systemic dysfunction that lead to homicides and the epidemic of gun violence which we still struggle with nearly three decades later.       

James Pate was born in Birmingham, Alabama, but raised in Cincinnati, Ohio where he attended the School for the Creative and Performing Arts. During his senior year he earned a scholarship to attend the Art Academy through a Corbett Award. Pate’s art education is mostly contributed to discipline, dedication, and consistent projects that refined his skills. Pate’s work has been exhibited in a number of select galleries and museums. Widely known for his idiosyncratic Techno-Cubism style which fuses realism with spatial abstraction.  Like Ice Cube, James is using his artistic abilities to address the consequences of gun violence.  And like Ice Cube, he’s unapologetic about his bold reflections of street violence and he’s very deliberate in making the viewer uncomfortable.  In the original 13 images of the Kin Killin Kin series reveal 26 guns and 38 isolated bullets.  The volume of guns and bullets are in conjunction of the volume of lives lost to gun violence.  Pate’s work is a self-described tantrum that reflect his love, concern and frustration.    

Ice Cube followed his debut album with works that reflected his genuine anger and scathing commentary about society's ills.  In similar fashion Pate continues to work on pieces that address violence in hope of inspiring us to find productive and sustainable solutions.  The thing I like most about Ice Cube is his storytelling ability and James Pate is comparable in that way in regards to contemporary art.  Every image in the series as a story and a rhythm that triggers an emotion and renders you vulnerable. 

Kin Killin' Kin is open now at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center through Saturday, February 13, 2016.  I encourage everyone to see the amazing artwork of James Pate and be moved to play a positive role in reducing the violence in our communities.        

Chris Miller

Manager of Program Initiatives

Images: Artist James Pate in gallery and Your History

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