Black Kirby’s, “Uncaged”

An exhibition dedicated to the analysis of Marvel’s Luke Cage from the original comics to the Netflix adaptation. The show features the art of Black Kirby, a single entity created by John Jennings and Stacey Robinson. The exhibition observes Luke Cage and is deconstructed down to how black masculinity is being represented with the historical impact of the black body in today’s society. 

I had the honor of seeing this show in person as well as getting to sit down and listen to the two halves of Black Kirby as they discussed their art, writing, and purpose behind the exhibition as well as their intentions in past, present and future projects. 

John Jennings

John Ira Jennings is a professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of California, Riverside. 
He is a scholar that focuses on the the visual culture of race across different mediums. 
Jennings currently is part of the editorial advisory board for  The Black Scholar and the new Ohio State Press imprint New Suns: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Speculative.

Stacey Robinson

Stacey Robinson is an assistant professor of graphic design and illustration at the University of Illinois.
His works focus on Black Utopias as peaceful spaces that are away from the affects of colonialism by identifying past and current Black protest movements. 

Being a hardcore geek, I absolutely had to go see this exhibition in person. As a current student of Jennings, it was amazing being able to see this professionally put together display, already having been able to participate in conversation with the curators. I personally have Luke Cage listed under my mental tally of least favorite comic book characters, so I was interested in seeing if the show would either change my thoughts about the character or put into words the things I find problematic in the comics. The exhibition featured art and commentary on the original Luke Cage comics, but the primary focus did seem to lay on the Netflix adaptation of the character, which is important as the show does present problems with today’s society still presenting problematic representation of minority bodies across all mediums, comic books being no exception. 

My two favorite pieces of the exhibition were some of the larger displays that featured a light in the back to create these beautiful bright neon images that absolutely stood out. Being a single identity, Jennings and Robinson collaborate their unique styles of art to create these interesting combinations of digital art and collages that seem to flow together. The image to the left compared to the right caught my attention, especially later in the Experiencing Comics panel when Jennings points out the problematic images presented in the Netflix adaptation of the character. 

“How do you show that he’s bulletproof? You have to shoot him. You have to have a black man during the Black Lives Matter movement shot every episode to prove that he’s bulletproof. And that’s problematic.”

New Riverside Art Exhibit Explores Impact of Black Super Hero Luke Cage. Press Enterprise, Press Enterprise, 23 Nov. 2018.

This quote is extremely important in my interpretation of the entire exhibition as I was able to once again return to the Culver Center of the Arts and see the artwork for its message rather than just its art-style. I agreed immediately with the quote and couldn’t stop thinking of the response of others having to see a black body shot at so many times to prove something about a character that it eventually became normal seeing this character being shot at, and that is terrifying. Luke Cage is a powerful character in the Marvel universe, he is literally impenetrable, but we, the audience, know this because we watched as every episode proved this by showing him being shot at constantly and despite the bullets being incapable of doing harm to him physically, there is emotional reaction we the viewers get as we see this black man constantly shot at. 

Uncaged: Hero for Higher hosted a discussion about the show and its impact, moderated by UC Riverside lecturer, Rachelle Cruz, and featured the two halves of Jack Kirby, Stacey Robinson and John Jennings, and speculative fiction writer, Nalo Hopkinson. 

The panel provided a deeper perspective into the creators of the entire displayed art pieces and being able to look around and be able to communicate with Black Kirby at the same time was an enriching experience as a comic book nerd and a student. Each piece also featured blocks of text that altogether created the basis for an entire class to be dedicated into the teachings of what Luke Cage is and does for the representation of the male black body with deep historical context. The display is also a demonstration of how specific parts of pop culture can be broken down to their core issues and be used as a basis to analyze society’s impact on fictional settings and characters. 

The exhibition is a complete recommendation on my part and is an excellent experience whether or not you are a fan or have even heard of who Luke Cage is. This is something everyone needs to experience for themselves. 

Uncaged: Hero for Higher is available to see at the Culver Center of the Arts and will be open from Nov. 17-March 31. 

You can check out the Culver Center’s site to check for updates. 

Make sure to check out Jennings’ and Robinson’s social media for updates on their amazing projects!

Jennings Twitter
Robinson Twitter

Author: Nissbit

CSUSB Grad Student, English MA. UCR ‘18 BA in English, Creative Writing, Media and Cultural Studies. Writer. San Bernardinian. Gamer. Blogger. Member of many fandoms.

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