By Dan Harkins
DELAND - Local rapper Maintain, a.k.a. Jermaine Antoine Hughley, would have looked less out of place Saturday, Oct. 6, if he were on stage at a club hyping his latest tracks to a hip-hop audience.
Instead, he was part of a holistic performance called Bearing Witness at the Museum of Florida Art - a tribute in song and dance inspired by outsider Miami artist Purvis Young (1943-2010), whose work is on display at the museum until Nov. 25.
"Whether it's on a canvas or done in the studio," Maintain said after the performance, "art is something that has to be felt to be appreciated."
That idea is the whole reason behind this, the fifth installment of the museum's three-year-old Art - Media - Performance series that cultivates collaboration among many disciplines.
For example, one of the first iterations was during a 2010 exhibition of Barbara Sorenson sculptures, during which dancers from the Center for Contemporary Dance in Winter Park performed an original ballet in and amongst the sculptures.
"This brings artists from other media together - music poetry, dance, drama - in a holistic way to see something on our walls and create something in response," said Pam Coffman, the museum's curator of education. "It's an artistic conversation."
Last weekend, it was Purvis Young's turn to form the spine of inspiration for others.
Sprung like an impossible-to-pluck weed from the cracks of Miami's underground art movement, Mr. Young was recognized as an influential artist from the early 1970s until he died two years ago of diabetes.
After a three-year stint in prison for breaking and entering, Mr. Young returned in 1972 to the Overtown neighborhood where he grew up and began a series of public murals on found plywood and other refuse that were meant to expose and decry the pain experienced by the African-American community.
Many symbols can be spotted throughout the arc of his work, Ms. Coffman said.
Iconic, black squiggles play the part of black people, which seem to dance right off the misshapen plywood canvasses found throughout his neighborhood.
In some works, a pale, blue eye can be seen staring down like a blue-eyed, judging Big Brother on high. Abstract horses - his symbol for freedom - often dance about his paintings too.
"He would look out his window at his neighborhood," Ms. Coffman said, "and be inspired to paint. It was a way to express his anger and frustration about what was happening to his community and the African-American people in his community, but it was also hopeful because he said, 'I'm finding beauty in things that were destroyed or ruined.' It's funny, but when he could finally afford to buy real canvasses, he stayed with the found materials."
The musical quality of Mr. Young's work inspired Ms. Coffman.
"I thought, 'If I could hear these paintings, what would they sound like?'" she recalled.
She thought of negro spiritual music, which ties directly to popular hip-hop today.
Since a colleague went to school with Maintain, she invited him to take part. He came and saw the exhibit, his first time inside the building.
"I could really relate to what he was saying in his work," he said. "It's something that I felt growing up, too. What artists have to express is not all that different today."
Last Saturday, after an hour of viewing Mr. Young's exhibit, about 30 audience members were treated to a six-song set by Maintain, which ended with an original song, called "The Art of Me," inspired by Mr. Young.
Interspersed throughout were four dances choreographed by DaQuan Barnes Williams, of the Center of Contemporary Dance in Winter Park. He and four other dancers then joined Maintain on the final number in tribute to Mr. Young.
"A new art was created in response to this older art," Ms. Coffman said. "That's the whole idea."
For more information about upcoming exhibits at the Museum of Florida Art, go online to museumoffloridaart.org.