”My work has always been concerned with commemoration, with remembering, and with showing my pride in my story. With “No Middle Cla$$” I want to bring you with me into my meditations on the landscape of my childhood, but I also want to give you a lens for seeing some of those struggles and all the existing promise. So, while the works I present in “No Middle Cla$$” demonstrate my self-taught skill in their textured, multi-media approach, they are also an incredibly exciting homage to the city of my childhood and a full-circle moment for me." -King Saladeen
Curated by Kimberly McGlonn, Ph.D.
Inner City Blues (2022) 60 x 60in
King Saladeen’s Meditation on Purpose & Place
Kimberly McGlonn, Ph.D. Drexel University
A young Black boy stands in the middle of a bright and bustling background of skyscrapers. His tender, wide smile invites us to linger and his eyes- created via a
mixed media collage approach, welcome us to bear witness to his life. He wants
to be seen by us.
A shining star in the newly released work from Philadelphia’s King Saladeen, the
painting “Basketball Saved My Life” offers us a compelling look at the realities of
urban life as documented through a sweeping visual story. In this work, a quiet
blue sky floats above a noisy city landscape, one that successfully pays homage to
the childhood memories of the artist himself. At far left we see the vestiges of an
economically under-resourced neighborhood- namely small businesses that offer
problematic necessities: cigarettes, alcohol, and fast food. We also see the
appearance of a small, family-owned market, one that tells the commonplace
story of immigration and food insecurity. With its thoughtful arrangement and
bold scale, we can see a boy larger than the city itself- one who has found a way
to discover his identity through the game of basketball and who, as evidenced by
the trophy at his side, covets his success. In this way we are confronted with his
dream of someday reaching the pearly gates of the NBA and the perils he must
face on that journey. Specifically, he must muster the might to create his own way
out: he must survive the threat of violence and the visible presence of the police.
Sitting at the far right is a church building which represents the house of worship
of Saladeen’s grandmother, offering the young boy a message of encouragement.
Ultimately, however, we are being presented with a boy who is a superhero in his
one right and who must pursue a passionate solo quest- a quest to break out of
his neighborhood, and to blast off beyond the rapidly shrinking oasis of the
mythological middle class.
If we zoom in on the boy’s torso we see just how beautifully vulnerable he is. The
figure’s form positioned precisely at center reveals a set of exposed organs and a
symbolic softness suggested by the floral petals on his sleeve. Here, Saladeen
effortlessly juxtaposes the hard lines of city life with the presentation of gentle design
choices to amplify that we are observing a child, a Black child, a Black boy. In this way,
he aptly honors the full humanity of Black children and Black childhood. By extension
his visual work, with its honesty about his own recollections amplifies the need to
shelter, protect, and invest in Black children- children who seek recognition, optimism,
and symbols of their own incredible worth and amazing potential.
Undoubtedly, this is what Saladeen’s most recent solo exhibition “No Middle Cla$$” is
all about- the quest he, like so many other Black boys from West Philadelphia have
had to pursue and simultaneously, process. In a most eloquent and timely manner he
brings us with him in this artful meditation on an alarming reality of the American
dilemma: either you are amongst those who have, or you are plotting a course for
escape where the odds are not in your favor. This motif presents itself throughout the
show where it appears often beside iconography of America, as demonstrated by his
inclusion for example, of the American flag in the piece entitled, “Two Americans”.
These choices of direct commentary make Saladeen’s autobiographical
reflections artifacts of the moment- its crisis AND its absolute beauty. In this way,
he continues in the artistic contributions of Jacob Lawrence and Basquiat. Thus,
while the works presented in “No Middle Cla$$” are masterful in their textured,
multi-media approach, their content demonstrates Saladeen’s skill as a self-taught
artist ready to tell his own story from a powerful new perspective.
Collectively, these works on view at Corridor Contemporary gallery in
Philadelphia, are an exciting return for King Saladeen to the city of his childhood
and a full-circle moment for one of the city’s most intriguing visual griots.