ArtsWI Bridge

Word With Naturel

A multitude of Washington D.C. and Maryland’s finest artists showcased their latest work Friday, April 12 – Sunday, April 14 at “Umbrella,” a three-day pop up exhibit held inside of an abandoned building complex at 14th between V and W Streets, N.W, formerly Martha’s Table. Throughout the weekend, art enthusiasts, families, groups of friends and others packed the space curated by the creative agency No Kings Collective in partnership with development project Collection 14.

The street-long art extravaganza included nine unique galleries filled with pieces (for sale) put on display by artists like District Dodger, Kelly Towles, Fabiola R. Delgado, Reggie Black, Girlaaa, and Naturel, among others.

Naturel (born Lawrence Atoigue), filled his space with black-and-white murals of crabs and titled the area “The Barrel.”

“My generation, growing up here, we used to call the city crabs in a barrel,” Naturel explained to The Bridge. “That’s why I called this The Barrel. Everybody was not supportive of each other, there can only be one. This next generation isn’t having it… I’m a Maryland boy through and through. I love some blue crabs but I’m not that crab in a barrel.”

A new collection of Naturel’s signature triangle shaped designs – including a print of Spike Lee holding an Academy Award in an Air Jordan pose – adorned The Barrel walls. In between photos with fans, and inquiries regarding the price of his pieces, the Landover, Md., native spoke with The Bridge about his inspirations, the area’s art scene, and his favorite spot to visit when he’s in his hometown.

What have you been working on?

In between shows, I’m working on the new voice, some new work, a whole new vibe. Same type of formula, just a different approach.

Are you creating here in D.C.?

I’ve been blessed to be able to go around the world and share the work, but I’m really concentrating here, and trying to make my next body of work and show it here first. I’m based here.

Talk to me about the DMV’s art scene. You are a product of it, is the area’s art scene in a good place right now?

I think the D.C. area in general, especially in Prince George’s County and Montgomery County, we have birthed so many creatives into the world and I think now it’s time to try to retain and build the structure as far as creative stuff goes. We’re up there. Our product, talented people that we export, we need to get them back. Around here there’s a thirst, there’s a hunger for creativity, but there’s very few examples of how to succeed as an artist coming from our community. A handful of us are trying to do our part to lead by example, just trying to show this next generation how to use your creativity to change your situation.

Are you interested in working with D.C. government’s creative initiatives, like 202Creates, or mostly private suitors?

Mostly private. I’m definitely open to working for whoever is open to retaining the culture in our community and taking it to another level. But also maintaining the culture that was here 20-30 years ago, plus do it with some dignity. I’m there to work with whoever it is. Let’s work!

What are your thoughts on D.C. becoming one of the most gentrified cities in the country?

It’s a travesty whenever they move our grandmothers, our aunts, our families off the block and everything. But I think it’s a call to us, our generation to step the game up and follow suit. There needs to be versions of us in suits. There needs to be versions of us talking the talk and getting the business straight enough so we can have long conversations with the developers that come through to show them if they come around they need to respect what was here before. A lot of these developers they’re not opposed to working with the culture, they just don’t think twice about it.

You have worked with quite a few celebrities and brands in the past, and many high-profile figures have acknowledged your work. Can you share one instance recently that surprised you?

I’ve been blessed for the last few years to work with, do art for, get support from and supported by a lot of celebrities. I guess the last one was uncle Spike Lee. He hit me up a few days before [The Academy Awards] to do a piece for him. It’s hanging up in 40 Acres & a Mule. He always comes through the shows and supports.

Can you explain the crabs you have plastered along the walls?

That’s why I called this The Barrel. My generation growing up here, we used to call the city crabs in a barrel, everybody was not supportive of each other, there can only be one. This next generation isn’t having it, they want to work together. I think with the passing of Nipsey (Hussle) and a bunch of other stalwarts of our community, we’ve got to do a lot better for each other and lift each other up. I’m a Maryland boy through and through. I love some blue crabs but I’m not that crab in a barrel.

When you’re in the city or back home from the road, are there any specific spots you have to go to?

I’m a homebody, I don’t get out like I used to when I was younger. I just hit the studio and rock out. I’ve got a lot of God children now so I’m with the kids. Turning Natural (juice bar) they’re doing a great thing with the cold press juices, the smoothies, and they’re servicing our communities, so it can’t get better than that.

What inspires you?

My because: it’s all about my family and my fiancé. My daughter, she’s 13, she sees the moves. It’s about setting that example and setting her up right so she doesn’t have to go through the same hoops and jump over the same hurdles that I did and that’s for everybody, that’s for my God sons and anybody indirectly who’s learning. Fifty years from now when they say my name, is it going to be in the museum? Is it going to be heralded as one of the greats? I want to build my career [to last] 100 years from now. It affects those generations coming after me. I want to be able to give something to my kids.

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