If you attend Malik Roberts’ art show in New York, it might give you the blues.

Art show

One of Malik Roberts’s works at the “Blk & Blue” exhibition. (Malik Roberts) – Courtesy of The Washington Post

And that’s what he’s going for. His show, “Blk & Blue,” is at New York’s ABXY gallery through Dec. 18 and is the manifestation of the Brooklyn artist’s blue period. While Pablo Picasso famously used his blue period to display the anguish of turn-of-the-20th-century Spaniards, Roberts’ focus is toward mental illness in communities of color.

On surface level, mental illness rates among black Americans are similar to white Americans. When it comes down to care, however, there is a discernible racial gap. For example with bipolar disease and schizophrenia, black people are less likely to receive quality care and have a higher chance to be incarcerated. Oppressive factors that still plague black people in our (and particularly, American) society today that include casual racism or even systemic inequality, can intensify and prolong mental health struggles.

“Environments that cause illnesses like anxiety, depression, PTSD, and bipolar disorder — these are our landscapes,” writes Roberts. The artist uses the color blue to create sensitive portraits of people ranging from a famished child to a worn-down family. His show also includes figurative sculpture.

The subjects of Roberts’ work are both disjointed and uplifted. Their faces and bodies are displayed in a sort of collage, while their internal mental health struggles are revealed by windowlike eyes and sketches around their brains and cheeks. Roberts has woven interactivity to his paintings, too, as visitors to the gallery can use augmented-reality iPads to experience the work.

Mental health in african americans

Only 1 in 3 of African Americans needing mental health treatment will seek it

We know that African Americans are more likely than white Americans to experience psychological distress, and also that just 1 in 3 of those needing treatment will seek it. For Roberts, who was inspired by painters such as Caravaggio, it also is critical to look at the deeper environmental and societal factors that create these ongoing disparities.

In Roberts’ work, he and his blue subjects implore that we consider how mental health problems are rooted in inequality and generational trauma. These blues, much like mental illness, are hard to kick.


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