Seawood Examines Scrutiny of Young Black Men in Portrait series

Chrystal Seawood’s “Boys to Black Men: The Seer is the Keeper of His Dreams” opens Thursday, Sept. 12, at The Arts & Science Center.

Chrystal Seawood’s “Boys to Black Men: The Seer is the Keeper of His Dreams” opens Thursday, Sept. 12, at The Arts & Science Center.

‘BOYS TO BLACK MEN’ exhibition MEANT TO SPARK DIALOGUE

By Shannon Frazeur

Arkansas native Chrystal Seawood examines society’s scrutiny and judgment of young black men with a new series of portraits on display at The Arts & Science Center. 

Boys to Black Men: The Seer is the Keeper of His Dreams. Work by Chrystal Seawood is a series of seven large-scale, bold and vibrant paintings of young men.

The exhibition opens Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, with a free public reception from 5-7 p.m. and remarks at 5:30. It will be on view through Saturday, Nov. 16, in ASC’s Ben J. Altheimer Gallery.

This exhibition is meant to spark dialogue about how our society judges young black men, explained ASC Curator Dr. Lenore Shoults. “In Chrystal Seawood’s words, this is an opportunity to ‘examine our perceptions’ and ‘open our hearts and minds,’” she said.

“The work centralizes the scrutiny young Black Men experience from the ever-present watcher,” Seawood said about her exhibition. “The watcher’s gaze is put on display with the boy’s own perception of how he sees himself.”

Seawood said she began this work out of frustration with the shooting death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African American man who in 2014 was fatally shot by a white police officer in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Mo. 

“I noticed how his death, and many other deaths of unarmed black boys and men, were indicators of how delicate the life of the black boy.”


Q: How do you think the way you see yourself compares to how America sees you?

A: “It’s crazy to be honest. I’m a chill young dude that just wants better for myself but in the eyes of America, they might think I’m a menace to society.”

— Steven James at age 18, 2019

She said she hopes viewers will “engage with each boy’s gaze and take a glimpse into his own perceptions of self. We are invited to experience our own emotions, examine our perceptions, open our hearts and minds, and celebrate their layered beauty.”

As part of “Boys to Black Men,” Seawood interviewed some of the young men depicted in the portraits; quotes from the interviews are mounted as part of the exhibition.

In addition to the exhibition at ASC, Seawood has also exhibited her work in Arkadelphia, Ark., Bentonville, Ark., New York City, and her current city of Washington, D.C.

The Forrest City, Ark., native’s interest in creating art began early. “It started with my love of apple juice,” she said. “In kindergarten, we had to draw a lot and other kids would give me their apple juice in exchange for a drawing.”

Seawood earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in digital art and design in 2008 from Henderson State University in Arkadelphia.

After graduating from HSU, Seawood worked at the Walmart Inc. headquarters in Bentonville, designing content for the Sam’s Club website and supporting the management team with weekly emails to consumers. In 2013, she said decided to leave corporate America and change careers. “[It was a] great company to work for. It just wasn’t my path in life.”

She moved back to Forrest City that year and taught there until 2017, when a school in Washington, D.C., recruited her to teach high school English. 

View more of Seawood’s work on her website, chrystalseawood.squarespace.com.

The exhibition is sponsored by Simmons Bank.