Preach! New Works by Jeffrey Kent is a solo show brimming over with images that provoke
questions regarding race, marriage equality and basic human rights. Curated by the Exhibition
Development Seminar (EDS) at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), Preach! opens
at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park in February. This exhibition debuts a
politically and historically engaged new body of work by Jeffrey Kent ’10 (LeRoy E. Hoffberger
School of Painting), a Baltimore-based artist, MICA graduate and EDS alumnus.
Through a series of interrelated paintings, sculptures and multimedia works, Baltimore-based
artist Jeffrey Kent confronts an argument within the black Christian community regarding
marriage equality. The artist pinpoints what he views as a paradox: that some members of
a community that have fought institutionalized discrimination do not endorse marriage rights
for same-sex couples. Kent sums up his argument in three words: “Equal is equal.”
Kent uses racially charged imagery to juxtapose black history in the United States with
recent activism for marriage equality. In his large-scale paintings, Kent depicts black
archetypal characters protesting state ballot initiatives and surrounded by ﬂat ﬁelds of garish
color. Authentic slave-picked cotton and appropriated photos from the Civil Rights Movement
are embedded in glossy acrylic surfaces, pulling the viewer through American history into
current political events. Blindfolded minstrels speak via word bubbles containing back-
wards text—a signature motif in Kent’s work. Through all of these elements, Kent surveys
the powerful roles that religion, race and gender identity have played in shaping American
culture, consciousness and laws.
The slave-picked cotton that Kent applies to his paintings has been extracted from 19th-
century chairs–which he uses in found-object sculptures. For these pieces, Kent binds
identical chairs side-by-side or face-to-face. These pairings may seem harmonious or
confrontational, as the chairs are balanced precariously atop stacks of books.
In one sculpture, Justice, Peace, and Genuine Respect for People, Kent’s chairs and books
rest on piles of pornographic magazines wrapped in a prayer rug—suggesting a conﬂicted
relationship between religious and sexual repression. A King James Bible and a bundle of
slave-picked cotton are perched at the pinnacle of these chairs. The visual tensions in this
arrangement of allusive found materials reference Kent’s complex relationships with race,
morality and social conservatism as well as with the black Christian church.
The Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park is a national heritage site that celebrates
black maritime history and the lives of Fredrick Douglass, a slave who became an abolitionist,
and Isaac Myers, a national black leader in the labor movement. The museum’s permanent
exhibition features artifacts that complement the historical themes seen in Kent’s works.
The Douglass-Myers is also a sought-after wedding venue in Baltimore. Throughout the span
of the exhibition, multiple weddings will likely be hosted in the gallery space. Kent’s sculptural
pieces will appear in the foyer of the museum and continue to the third ﬂoor Bearman Gallery,
where the paintings command attention next to a view of the harbor that once was a major
disembarkation point for ships carrying slaves.