/Joe Overstreet’s ‘New Jemima’ became icon of civil rights movement

Joe Overstreet’s ‘New Jemima’ became icon of civil rights movement

Overstreet stated, “When we moved from Chicago to Meridian, we went to a Catholic School where a teacher used a small ruler and beat our hands.” Overstreet said, “I started drawing all of the time as an escape from this, so drawing became my habit.” The Mississippi Arts Commission awarded Overstreet the Governor’s Arts Award for Excellence in Visual Art for his lifetime in designing pieces that give a glimpse into his Native-American and African-American heritages. Overstreet’s family moved five times before he was 14. They eventually settled in Berkeley, Calif., and Overstreet started his professional studies at California School of Fine Arts. There he met many black artists that would be a great influence on his art throughout his life. Overstreet made it to New York City in the late 1950s to set up a studio and create window displays for his stores. Overstreet’s artwork began to make a big statement, with “The New Jemima”, a canvas box that featured the famous face from a pancake mix. This portrayal shows Aunt Jemima smiling while holding a machine gun. “I think people can also understand the anger, political consciousness and even irony of my painting. Whites used ‘Mammy,’ a favorite stereotype to oppress African Americans. These old, tired, and frustrating ideas were a source of disgust for black people. New Jemima, a new intergalactic space traveler, decided to make a stand in the new world,” Overstreet stated in an interview with London’s Tate Modern. My painting shows the New Jemima, who used a machine gun or kitchen equipment as her stove. She is making rapid-fire pancakes. Overstreet stated that “My New Jemima painting still sparks discussion today because the painting continues traveling to exhibitions in New places.” Overstreet’s Governor’s Arts Award nomination reads: “The importance of this piece as an icon of the Civil Rights Movement can’t be underestimated — it was created by an artist in Mississippi.” Overstreet’s other social pieces include “Strange Fruit,” an Oil Canvas painting that he created as a response to a horrific lynching and Billie Holiday’s song. “I felt the most absurd anger I’ve ever felt when I saw this innocent child they had disfigured and maimed, and their neck was stretched. In an interview with Kenkeleba House in New York, Overstreet stated that the Billie Holiday song and that photograph were what probably brought the painting together. After four girls were murdered in Birmingham by Ku Klux Klan members, Overstreet painted the “Birmingham Bombing”. Jochen Wierich (curator at the Mississippi Museum of Art), said that Joe Overstreet would not have been able to do the Civil Rights-era work had he remained in Mississippi. Overstreet was nominated for the Governor’s Award. In other words, Overstreet is a Mississippian who left the state to find his calling. He has become a global messenger for Mississippi by leaving the state. His work is now displayed not only in the United States, but all over the globe.” Wierich discovered Overstreet’s work while researching for “Picturing Mississippi 1817-2017” at the Mississippi Museum of Art. Wierich stated, “I was shocked when I learned that this artist, born in Mississippi, played such a significant part in making civil right a subject in art.” I think there are few Mississippi artists who have had such a distinguished career, and are still relatively unknown in the state. Black people didn’t see a way to make it in this country. He made a great career for himself.” Although Overstreet has lived in cities that are cultural epicenters and have enjoyed success, Overstreet still credits his roots for their influence on his work. Overstreet stated that his screen paintings, even today, are based on the porch of my grandmother’s Conehatta home. “I believe that living in the wilderness gave me a clear sense and appreciation for color. My upbringing and early experiences have also helped me develop a keen understanding of the land. Overstreet, Corrine and their gallery, x000D, are both New York City residents.