Violence In Black Community Portrayed In Photo Series

Sep 4, 2014

Between TV shows like CSI, horror movies like Saw, and shooter video games - it’s safe to say some of us are a little desensitized to violence.

But one Grand Rapids artist says murder, rape, kidnapping, and other violent acts are happening to real people in African American communities all across the country - and it’s time we paid attention. 

Akibang hangs his photo recreation of a mother crying over the death of her child at the Black Arts & Cultural Center
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

Monroe “Aki” O’Bryant also known as "Akibang" is a photographer and videographer out of Grand Rapids.

His photo series "Realistic Neglects" will be on display at the Black Arts & Cultural Center during the Kalamazoo Art Hop on Friday.

“Other people don’t really care about [the violence] because they watch it on the news. You know what I’m saying? So it’s not as powerful," says Akibang. "So if it’s in your face like how I have it and stuff like that, it definitely develops that result.”

For two years, Akibang used actors to stage gruesome scenes of black men and women being kidnapped, tortured, and killed. It’s almost impossible not to sympathize with the victims, as they stare out at you with looks of terror and grief on their faces, often dripping with blood.

“Like this picture right here was based off of…it was a gang rival. I guess a drug deal went bad and the head drug dealer was in prison and threatened the other guy saying ‘Well, if I can’t get you, I’m going to get the first person that opens your door,'" Akibang explains.

"So his mother actually opens the door and she gets shot in the head right in front of her 2-year-old child. So that’s the point of view of the 2-year-old child seeing the mother getting killed. What happened to the 2-year-old child? What kind of therapy is that child going through?”

Akibang says, to many people, these crimes are just a blip on the news. But to others, it’s the loss of another friend or family member. Akibang says some of his relatives knew Latrice Maze whose body was found in a Grand Rapids dumpster last year. He says when it comes to black lives, many of these crimes go uninvestigated and unnoticed.

“Teleka Patrick disappeared, they just stopped talking about her. They said, ‘Hey, we found her. That’s it, case closed.’ And I’m like, ‘Who did the killing or what happened?’” says Akibang.

Though the police say the autopsies showed no signs of foul play, Patrick’s family insisted that the circumstances of her death are still suspicious.

Akibang’s exhibit “Realistic Neglects” is broken up into three parts: one depicting the woman who was shot in front of her 2 year old, one on human trafficking, and one on what Akibang calls “The Black Holocaust”—which represents both the countless men and women killed in the slave trade as well as the violence happening in the black community today.

Out of all of the photos, these are some of the most powerful. Photos of bodies lined in up in a row, next to a lynching scene where both the victim and executioner are African American. Akibang says the black community needs combat the violence in their own neighborhoods.

“A lot of things has happened with the gentrification situation that’s happening in Grand Rapids and stuff. A lot of the community had been there forever, you know, and the violence still occurred. And as soon as another culture comes in there, next thing you know, it’s safe," he says. "You know, we have to create that safe environment for us as well.”

But Akibang says it will take everyone to fix the problem. And the first step is realizing the effect slavery still has on the African American community today.

“Let’s pow-wow. Let’s kick it. Let’s talk. Let’s talk outside, let’s not talk inside of a building. You know most political leaders and different leaders of the community talk inside of a building. It’s the same old people," Akibang says.

"Talk to the hood. Talk to the drug dealers, talk to them. These guys are not dumb people, they’re very intelligent. And we have to start valuing their intelligence. Just because they don’t think like you, doesn’t mean they don’t think. So yeah, talk to the community, man. Let them know, ‘This is what you’re doing.’”