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‘Showin up and showin out’: Napoleon Jones-Henderson exhibit calls for compassion

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
‘Showin up and showin out’: Napoleon Jones-Henderson exhibit calls for compassion
A detail from “Do Lord Remember Me” by Napoleon Jones-Henderson. (Photo: Photo: Courtesy Napoleon Jones-Henderson)

Napoleon Jones-Henderson returns to Roxbury Community College with the exhibit “Showin Up and Showin Out: The Past, Present, and Future,” on view at the Resnikoff Gallery through November 30. Jones-Henderson is well-known for his sculptural installations of painted ceramic tiles. In this exhibit and in all his work, the artist is committed to social change. He says, “I hope these works help people to consider there’s something higher and brighter than just doing what they ought to do.”

Author: Photo: Courtesy Napoleon Jones-HendersonJones-Henderson’s “Egungun for Duke.”

First and foremost, Jones-Henderson considers himself an image-maker. Art and aesthetics, he believes, are focused on style, and in his work, the message is the top priority. “Style is defined by galleries and critics and the public,” he says. “It’s how they get a handle on the work.”

In his multimedia pieces, ceramic tiles are hand stenciled and individually fired. The works aren’t typically square, but feature curving, moving shapes. To make the lines of hard tiles look so organic is no small feat.

Going on 73 years old, Jones-Henderson is no stranger to the politics that inspire so much social change art and advocacy. His message to love one another seems particularly relevant after this year’s political scandals revolving around race, faith and inclusion. He says, “The most recent election is a vivid example of the old adage, ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same.’ Today is really like yesterday.” Though the message for community spirit and growth may always have been necessary, exhibiting his work at a time of such division may allow it to touch more people.

Jones-Henderson isn’t just inspired by social change, but by music as well. He often has said that his work is a visual manifestation of the sharp scatting and moody crooning of local jazz legends. This is evident in his mural “Roxbury Rhapsody” in Dudley Square and in his copper doors on the second floor of the Roxbury Community College library. The city is ripe with Jones-Henderson’s work and the work of many other local creators, a fact he wishes more people knew.

The artist’s greatest hope with “Showin Up and Showin Out” is not that it looks aesthetically pleasing, but that it touches viewers on a deeper level. He says, “Life is a journey that’s as beautiful as your participation in it. I hope people walk away from my work different than when they first approached it.”