Arts + Culture

NextGen: Jeff Manning's Soulful Digital Portraits Depict a Surreal Subconscious

We catch up with Philadelphia-based graphic artist, Jeff Manning, on how his work illustrates the beauty of the black mind.

DIASPORAOver the course of July we'll be publishing short profiles, essays and interviews on the theme of "Afrofutures." Together these stories will be a deep dive into the way African and diaspora thinkers, technologists and artists view a future for Africans in the world and outside of it. 


Take a look at our introduction to Afrofuturism here.

Throughout this month, we'll also highlight and celebrate young, leading talents who already put into practice what a future with black people look like through their work in our daily profile series, 'NextGen.'

In our eigth edition, meet artist and Philly native, Jeff Manning. 

Graphic artist Jeff Manning merges the intricacy of graphic design with the intimacy of portraiture and sensuality of neo soul music, creating images that conjure an elegant sphere of spirituality. However, what’s most striking about these images is the way they illustrate a visual, cinematic side of our imaginations and subconscious thoughts.

'Signals.' Jeff Manning. Photo courtesy of artist.

Manning's digital incarnations envision us as awakened angels, sensitive androids and intuitive astronauts, able to transport ourselves with the unfathomable power of our minds. Based in Philadelphia, his subjects drown in the ecstasy of their imaginations: elements float around their heads or protrude out of their skulls like crowns that project their mind’s wildest desires.

'Signals.' Jeff Manning. Photo courtesy of artist.

“The portraits give the viewers of my work an idea of the positive characteristics of a person,” Manning tells me via email. “I've always wanted the viewer to see themselves or picture themselves as the person in the artwork and know that there is no limit to what they can do—promoting self-awareness and empowerment.”

'Escape to Space.' Jeff Manning. Photo courtesy of artist.

A leading proponent of Afrofuturism is the ability to imagine or portray oneself as more than what we can realistically, or currently, express. That’s why daydreaming is such a safe haven: the imagination is a powerful vehicle that can transport us to any destination we choose, to any personality we aspire to be. The mind is a world all it’s own.

Have a look at more of our favorites from Jeff Manning below.

[oka-gallery]

Music
Photo by Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hugh Masekela's New York City Legacy

A look back at the South African legend's time in New York City and his enduring presence in the Big Apple.

In Questlove's magnificent documentary, Summer of Soul, he captures a forgotten part of Black American music history. But in telling the tale of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, the longtime musician and first-time filmmaker also captures a part of lost South African music history too.

Among the line-up of blossoming all-stars who played the Harlem festival, from a 19-year-old Stevie Wonder to a transcendent Mavis Staples, was a young Hugh Masekela. 30 years old at the time, he was riding the wave of success that came from releasing Grazing in the Grass the year before. To watch Masekela in that moment on that stage is to see him at the height of his time in New York City — a firecracker musician who entertained his audiences as much as he educated them about the political situation in his home country of South Africa.

The legacy Masekela sowed in New York City during the 1960s remains in the walls of the venues where he played, and in the dust of those that are no longer standing. It's in the records he made in studios and jazz clubs, and on the Manhattan streets where he once posed with a giant stuffed zebra for an album cover. It's a legacy that still lives on in tangible form, too, in the Hugh Masekela Heritage Scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music.

The school is the place where Masekela received his education and met some of the people that would go on to be life-long bandmates and friends, from Larry Willis (who, as the story goes, Masekela convinced to give up opera for piano) to Morris Goldberg, Herbie Hancock and Stewart Levine, "his brother and musical compadre," as Mabusha Masekela, Bra Hugh's nephew says.

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