Rudy Shepherd: Somebody’s Child includes twenty-five watercolors chosen from Shepherd’s ongoing Portrait series. The works on view depict victims of police violence. Also on view in the Museum’s Studio is video documentation of Shepherd’s 2016 live performance, Induction Ceremony. Law enforcement’s fatal toll on Black and Latinx lives has induced anger and anguish, fueling a movement for racial justice and police reform that has spread across all fifty states. Shepherd’s installation not only mourns and humanizes these tragic losses, but also raises awareness of systemic racial inequality and historic police brutality.
Shepherd has been working on his Portrait series since 2007. His earliest portraits portrayed Black men accused of crimes, but not yet convicted, and prejudicially villainized by the press. As the series grew in scope and scale, Shepherd widened its focus to include luminaries, visionaries, terrorists, spiritualists, victims, and their perpetrators. Today, the series spans more than 400 works, each uniformly measuring at the intimate scale of 12 x 9 inches. Most of the portraits are made within days of the media’s reporting, eliciting an emotional response that establishes compassion by “reclaiming victims’ humanity.” Executed in watercolor, a medium that best matches the fleetingness of the news cycle, their individual presence embodies an arresting stillness. Accompanying the portraits is an audio piece by Shepherd about the project.
Induction Ceremony, commissioned by The Studio Museum in Harlem, was performed live at Jackie Robinson Park on October 9, 2016. The video documentation shows Shepherd as The Healer, a numinous being inspired by Sun Ra, composer, musician, poet, and pioneer of Afrofuturism. The Healer interacts with a monumental public artwork by Shepherd, Black Rock Negative Energy Absorber, 2016, to an improvised score played by an experimental music collective. Shepherd’s performance signifies a spiritual healing, where destructive forces like racism, exclusion, and trauma are purged through empathy and positive energy.
The Museum produced a poster with 100% of the proceeds going to Color of Change.
Rudy Shepherd was born in 1975 in Baltimore, MD. He lives in New York City and works in Yonkers, New York.
A selection of Shepherd’s Healing Devices (2010–2017) were included in the group exhibition, Objects Like Us, curated by Amy Smith-Stewart and artist David Adamo at The Aldrich in 2018.
Rudy Shepherd: Somebody’s Child is curated by Amy Smith-Stewart, Senior Curator.