By Sheldon and Scott and Kenyon Cooper
Art is usually found in museums, but Brandon B. Odums, better known as ‘Bmike’, paints his murals on buildings and abandoned houses. Bmike uses his paintings to confront and challenge communities to speak out against the social issues that are taking place around them. His paintings are stories that grab the attention of the younger generation, who he believes hold the key to unlocking change in the world. He first became famous for his “socially responsible graffiti”, as he calls it, with the creation of Project B, a grand masterpiece featuring Civil Rights heroes sketched on the walls of old Florida housing developments before they were torn down.
Bmike has showcased his work throughout three shows in New Orleans. “I started this project, originally called ‘Project B’ three years ago. I snuck into this abandoned complex in the 9th Ward and just started painting murals for myself. People started seeing them and the murals got a lot of attention. I did another project called ‘Exhibit B’, set in the same context, in an abandoned apartment complex in a different space, but equally focused on the same story and events since Katrina. It was a three part series, ‘Project B’, ‘Exhibit B’, and now ‘Studio B’.” Studio B recently opened in February.
When asked about how his art is helping the community, Bmike says, “Art was always used to communicate, educate, and inspire. I am speaking for the people of New Orleans that need to be heard. My art speaks from a personal perspective as to what it means to live as a black man in New Orleans.”
Bmike’s murals breathe new life into forgotten buildings, but they also convey a deeper message. When asked about his creative process, Bmike says he draws his inspiration from the words of Paul Robeson and Cornel West. Robeson was a famous African-American athlete, artist, and civil rights advocate at a time when segregation was legal and lynching was still common in the South, while West was a professor at Harvard and Princeton and author of Race Matters, Democracy Matters and the memoir Brother West. “When I am creating art, I think about two factors. I think about the words of Paul Robeson, who said ‘Art is the gatekeeper of truth.’ I also think about the words of Cornel West, who said ‘A condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak.’ There is an idea that you cannot speak truth unless you inbody the sensitivities of everyday people.”
Bmike wants people to stay true to their morals and values, while inspiring the younger generation to spark change in the world by showing them the civil rights leaders of the past. “The overall message goes back to that Dr. King quote, ‘Almost always the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.’ Exhibit B was trying to show that nowhere in New Orleans is a blank canvas. Everything is already a beautiful canvas that may need some adjustments. Be true to yourself, and understand what your voice is.”
Sheldon Scott and Kenyon Cooper are freshmen at New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School.