TO ILLUSTRATE THE COVER of its special issue titled Visions of Equity, Time magazine chose a painting by Jordan Casteel. “God Bless the Child” (2019), captures a tender moment, a young mother cradling the head of her child, presumably a little girl. Both of their faces are obscured. Nonetheless, Casteel takes great care in their representation, paying particular attention to their hair: loose natural hanging curls for the mother, a pair of cornrows for her little one. She depicts her subjects on the New York City subway. It’s a moment of quiet humanity in a public space.

Time’s Visions of Equity issue is a first of its kind for the publication—a project envisioned and led by BIPOC staff members. One year ago, after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, the project grew out of a sense of hopelessness and frustration. The journalists had a desire to address head on what was going on in the country in a fact-based manner that also accounted for the reality that the stories they were reporting reflected and affected their own experiences and those of their communities. The project explores the “fight for racial justice” and also seeks out solutions for “building a better world.”

 


Time magazine, May 24 and May 31, 2021: Cover image, JORDAN CASTEEL, “God Bless the Child,” 2019 (oil on canvas, 36 x 30 inches / 91.44 x 76.2 cm). | © Jordan Casteel. Courtesy Casey Kaplan, New York. Photo by Jason Wyche. From the collection of Dr. Anita Blanchard and Martin Nesbitt

 

Coverage in the special issue (dated May 24 and May 31) includes “40 Ways to Build a More Equitable America,” how activists in eight countries are fighting for racial justice, “How Communities of Color Have Found Peace, Joy, and Comfort in a Year Like No Other,” a look at racial equity in corporate America, and statistics on police behavior after Floyd’s killing.

Shedding light on the cover choice, Victor Williams, Time’s international art director, said Casteel’s painting “captures exactly what the team working on this package had hoped for: intimacy, hope and care for our communities.”

Joran Casteel’s painting “captures exactly what the team working on this package had hoped for: intimacy, hope and care for our communities.”
— International Artistic Director Victor Williams

Harlem-based Casteel is an associate professor of painting at Rutgers University. “Jordan Casteel: Within Reach,” her first solo museum exhibition in New York, was recently on view at the New Museum. “God Bless the Child” was presented in “Jordan Casteel: The Practice of Freedom,” a solo show at Casey Kaplan gallery in New York in 2019.

Writing about the artist’s work, Williams also cited her grandfather, civil rights leader Whitney M. Young Jr. (1921-1971), the first dean of Atlanta University’s School of Social Work who went on to lead the National Urban League, devoted his life to a vision of equity in America where Black people would have the benefit of basic rights and opportunity.

Two generations later, his legacy is very much tied to the work Casteel does in her own field, reinventing portraiture and traditional notions about who deserves to be its subject in terms of race, class, and gender; exploring concepts of belonging, otherness, and displacement; and challenging expectations about Blackness.

The cover image is personal and aspirational. It was Casteel’s mother who named the painting after the song by Billie Holiday. Williams noted that the artist “particularly loved rendering the hair.” She said, “It feels familiar” and “I see myself represented in this work.”

On Instagram, Casteel commented further about the ambitious mission and outlook of the journalistic project her work was selected to illustrate:

“Equity. Not Equality. Respecting and valuing all human life—to seek real equity—requires unlearning, learning, empathy, listening, and making space for more than numbers around the table but voices in the room. It’s time to fill the gaps and do the work,” the artist wrote. “There’s so much left to see if your (sic) willing to look further.” CT

 

FIND MORE Jordan Casteel also posted her Time cover with the magazine’s 1967 cover featuring Whitney M. Young Jr. She captioned the pairing: “We never met, and yet we have. #grandpawhitney ❤️ @time.” Young’s portrait was illustrated by Boris Chaliapin, who also made images of James Baldwin, Martin Luther King Jr., Althea Gibson, Thelonious Monk, Muhammad Ali, and many others for the magazine. In 2014, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery presented “Mr. TIME: Portraits by Boris Chaliapin.” The exhibition described the illustrator as publication’s most prolific artist.

 

BOOKSHELF
“Jordan Casteel: Within Reach” accompanied the artist’s exhibition at the New Museum, her first solo museum show in New York. “Jordan Casteel: Returning the Gaze” documents Jordan Casteel’s first solo exhibition at a mainstream art museum, which was organized by the Denver Art Museum.

 

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