The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

May 06, 2013

BFI presents T. Eliott Mansa

Posted by Valerie Nahmad

By Naomi Fisher, Bas Fisher Invitational

To celebrate the wonderful news that Miami based artist T. Elliot Mansa was accepted into the prestigious Yale painting MFA program, the BFI #BigFutureInitiative is hosting an exhibition of his newest work. Please note, this is a fundraising exhibition: All profits from every sale of Mansa's Artwork will go directly to help fund Mansa's expenses while at YALE. We want Mansa to thrive!

Wednesday May 8th is the final day of the exhibition. Make an appointment and come by!

T. Eliott Mansa, "Olokun/Eric," Acrylic on Canvas, 2011

Mansa, born in Miami, is a product of Miami-Dade's magnet programs. Home was a very different place than school. At home in the early 80's he watched as his stepfather grappled with crack addiction. In school Mansa began to navigate the dichotomy of these two worlds. He began to use Art as a place to question these contradictions around him. Though he graduated from the esteemed New World School of the Arts, Mansa still had to avoid the ever-present temptations of gangs and drugs. Despite watching a number of his friends dabble in the drug trade, some even falling to gun violence along the way, the temptation to follow in this illicit life path for Mansa was real.

After battling depression following the death of his mother, Mansa again looked to painting. He explored auto-biographical tropes in his Mother/Son series. Logically, Mansa began to explore his relationship with his father in his work. It seemed painting was becoming his saving grace. Looking at his own life Mansa saw that through Art he had been able to accomplish more than his peers around him; namely, he had managed to graduate college and avoid the label of felon, two things his siblings had been unable to achieve.

T. Eliott Mansa opening reception at BFI #BigFutureInitiative T. Eliott Mansa opening reception at BFI #BigFutureInitiative

As Mansa questioned the relationships between Sons and Fathers and ideas behind the worship of 'the hustler' in hip-hop's urban culture, he was able to draw closer to his brothers and father. This was a fleeting joy. Unfortunately on Easter Sunday, Mansa would lose his father to cancer as well. Mansa received his notice of acceptance to Yale the night before his father's funeral.

T. Eliott Mansa will be exhibiting recent portraits that bridge the gaps between sociological and autobiographical narratives, mixed with elements from the mythologies of the West African Yoruba cosmology. The figures painted in acrylic, often of family and friends, emerge in rich details from graphite washes. These young men, brothers, uncles and father(s) of the artist, are all convicted felons. The paintings portray the subjects, often African-American men, both in urban settings and as African deities, or Orishas, using the metaphor of possession to examine the role of hero-worship in Mansa's subjects' socialization.

T. Eliott Mansa opening reception at BFI #BigFutureInitiative T. Eliott Mansa opening reception at BFI #BigFutureInitiative

BFI #BigFutureInitiative: 100 Northeast 11 St, Miami; BFI is open by appointment only. for appointments, contact

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