2017: The Year According to Bobby Rogers
Skip to main content

2017: The Year According to Bobby Rogers

Bobby Rogers is a visual artist whose work is centered in his multiple identities as a Black, millennial, Muslim. While pursuing a BFA in Design, Rogers found the space and freedom to begin a journey of self-exploration. Early on through illustration, he created work about mental illness and addiction and later explored the DIY aesthetics of street culture and its influence on high fashion. Today, he is investigating the revolutionary ideologies of Black culture through contemporary portrait photography. Rogers work has been described as “delicately complex and understated, yet unapologetically bold and confident in it’s humility.” (Mike Carney, Juxtapoz). Rogers has most recently shown work at the International  Center  of Photography, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Public Functionary, and the Minnesota Museum of American Art. His work has been featured in several publications including Vice, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, Mashable, AJ+, and Juxtapoz. In 2016, Minnesota Monthly named Rogers the state’s up-and-coming visual artist to watch.


Since 2014 the organization MuslimARC has guided a conversation on exploring the challenges many face at the intersection of two of the most marginalized identities: being both Black and Muslim. Users share their experience most often via the Twitter hashtag #BeingBlackandMuslim. I was joyed to come across the conversation once again in early 2017. Soon after, I published a portrait series capturing the faces and experience of my brothers and sisters occupying this delicate and extraordinary faction of society. To be Black and Muslim is to be in a constant state of resistance to a world attempting to eliminate your existence. I was not only honored to have the project picked up by publications all over the world, but, to a greater degree, for the opportunity to give voice to those who’ve been the target of the harshest form of systematic oppression and silencing for the whole of history.


More than the album itself, the visuals accompanying 4:44 have been pure genius. Jay Z has created a unique visual for every track in the album. Mirroring traits of Beyoncé’s most recent release—except he’s not present in any of the visuals. In the haunting and heavy Lupita N’yongo–featured and Francesco Carrozzini–directed visual “MaNyfaCedGod,” the actor delivers an emotional interpretive performance, and I couldn’t help but mirror her anguish. In the visuals for “Moonlight,” director Alan Yang reimagined the intro from the show Friends using Black actors. Interestingly enough, not until I watched the visual for “Moonlight” did I understand Jay’s bar, “We stuck in La La Land/even when we win, we gon’ lose”—playing on the Oscar mishap of naming La La Land as the Best Picture before correcting and announcing the actual winner to be Moonlight, as a larger metaphor for the condition of Black Americans.


Bobby Rogers, The Blacker the Berry, IV, 2017

I had the opportunity to exhibit my first solo show this year in my hometown of Minneapolis. Set in the context of current cultural and social tensions, The Blacker the Berry considers Blackness both historically and presently, through a series of 10 large-scale conceptual portraits. My ancestors were stolen, slaughtered, and enslaved; TBTB is created to transcend and release ancestral trauma by fantasizing and reveling over the grandiose empires in which these ancestors once reigned. My subjects are captured through intentional portraiture that evokes a cultural renaissance, asking the viewer to consider an artistic movement that celebrates Blackness in response to the racially charged consciousness of contemporary America.


Raoul Peck put forward a documentary-style retell of the Black experience told through the mind’s eye of renowned novelist and social critic James Baldwin. In the late 1970s Baldwin began (but never completed) writing a novel illustrating the strife and false freedom of Black America by chronicling the rise and assassinations of three of his close colleagues: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. I watched Peck’s film back-to-back, two days in a row. It gave a view of the civil rights movement from a graphically poetic and reflective lens. I am absolutely pleased Peck decided to complete what Baldwin masterfully started.


Following a strong urge to leave the country and “explore” in its loosest term, I was presented with the opportunity to travel to Iceland for a two week residency developed by Light Grey Art Lab. During the residency, 13 creators from around the world gathered in Akureyri, Iceland for a journey of exploration, collaboration, and inspiration through maneuvering the gorgeous landscape by day and engaging in individual artist-lead workshops in the evening. Experiencing Iceland with a group of gifted creators offered an awareness and investigation into my own practice like non other. It was certainly a highlight of my life.


There are instances in our lives where we shield ourselves from certain revelations for our own mental preservation. Several of my own guards were disassembled while reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s essay, “The First White President.” For example, white supremacy ideology has been coupled with traits such as unintelligent, poor, extreme, and the like, however, not until reading this piece did I grasp how far from the truth this was. As Coates states plainly, “According to Edison Research, Trump won whites making less than $50,000 by 20 points, whites making $50,000 to $99,999 by 28 points, and whites making $100,000 or more by 14 points. This shows that Trump assembled a broad white coalition that ran the gamut from Joe the Dishwasher to Joe the Plumber to Joe the Banker. So when white pundits cast the elevation of Trump as the handiwork of an inscrutable white working class, they are being too modest, declining to claim credit for their own economic class.”


DAMN. was the album I needed this year. It’s a cryptic, melodic, fly-on-the-wall, black-as-hell examination of the relationship between his holy and ratchet self. His lyrical narrative is delivered with a precision that’s almost too good to be true and represents a voice of a generation of youth juggling similar issues of life, faith, and reconciliation. Its equally vulnerable and passionately assertive nature is best captured in tracks like “Pride” as Kendrick laments, “Promises are broken and more resentment come alive/Race barriers make inferior of you and I/See, in a perfect world, I’ll choose faith over riches/I’ll choose work over bitches, I’ll make schools out of prison/I’ll take all the religions and put ’em all in one service/Just to tell ’em we ain’t shit, but He’s been perfect, world.”


I’m a complete geek regarding futurism. I’ve always admired Elon Musk’s vision for the future, and I was glued to the livestream the first time SpaceX successfully landed its Falcon 9 rocket. So, understandably, when Musk unveiled his BFR (Big Fucking Rocket—he named it, not me) that will be able to take us anywhere around the world in less than an hour and to Mars within the next decade, I was ecstatic, and I feel this information is completely underhyped.


Image: Adrian Frank

As an entity we’ve established a place of refuge and release for the global Black community. In confronting personal and global issues, Black Twitter has grown into a legion simultaneously providing constructive scholarly dialogue and hilarious meme-based hottakes. Several of the most prominent movements of our time were conceived by Black Twitter (you’re welcome), and I, without question, would not have been able to navigate 2017 without my Black Twitter family.


2017 was tumultuous to say the least. It has been a year ravished with accomplishment and tragedy. I loss my mother the day after Thanksgiving, and on my continued search for reconciliation I flipped through the archive of a favorite podcast of mine. This conversation between Krista Tippett, Sheryl Sandberg, and Adam Grant yielded much needed guidance on the road towards understanding what “it” all means. 

Get Walker Reader in your inbox. Sign up to receive first word about our original videos, commissioned essays, curatorial perspectives, and artist interviews.