“As an artist, you have to get outside of the concern with what other people think of what you do. I don’t do what I do to appease people. I do the opposite. I do stuff that makes you uncomfortable, that makes you get up and say ‘What are you saying? James, did you read what they said about your work? No, I didn’t.’”
James C. Lewis, Georgia boy and internationally renowned photographer, has been a working artist since he founded his studio, N3K, in 2008. His Yoruba African Orishas series―based on the pantheon of West African deities also worshiped in the Caribbean and South America―preceded his more recent Icons of the Bible project, released last year.
“We were taught the Greek and Roman gods, but African deities were always seen as voodoo and witchcraft,” Lewis says of his inspiration for creating the series, which has been displayed around the world, from London’s Cre8 Gallery to Stockholm’s National Museum of World Culture, and, soon, to New York’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. “The Greeks and Romans were inspired by the Orisha, which predate their gods by 5,000 years. In modern times, they’ve moved down into comic book characters. Storm from X-Men was inspired by Oya, who controls the weather. Thor and Shango are both gods of lightning and thunder.”
“Our history did not start with slavery,” Lewis asserts. “We were the original people. The Moors, as they called black people at the time, brought the Europeans out of the Dark Ages. History is only going to be highlighted by the person that writes it. It’s our job to tell things from our perspective, so that’s my work.”
The complete Yoruba African Orishas series will appear at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City from September 24, 2015 until January 16, 2016.