Alfred Conteh's painting Jade (2020) portrays a woman whose name is actually Jade, but the painting also makes use of jade as a color. Green, red and black are the colors of the Pan-African flag, representative of the African diaspora, and of Black liberation. Green, which is representative of the earth and nature, surrounds Jade in this picture, while she herself is painted red, representative of the blood of the African people. She is holding a dollar in her hand. The dollar is painted black, an allusion to Black wealth. Jade's hand, which holds the dollar, is severed from her body. The severance is symbolic of how Black dollars are constantly siphoned away from the Black economy. Says Conteh, "That's not just by practice, it's by design. Without ownership and control of our own businesses, our own homes, and our own economy, our dollars go somewhere else as soon as they touch our hands. Black commerce—that's what this piece is about."
This painting is one of the latest in a series titled “Two Fronts.” For this series, Conteh paints the people that he meets where he lives and works in Atlanta. He presents his subjects as they really are, yet allegory is embedded heavily within the materiality of his work. His materials include battery acid, rust and metal dust, giving the surfaces of his paintings a quality similar to that of the decaying, neglected buildings that dot the landscape of the neighborhoods captured in his paintings. This is not just an aesthetic choice, but a call for viewers to confront the reality of the world we all live in.
Says Conteh, "The way I look at my work is they're not just paintings, they're reminders. They should be reminders to everyone who looks at them, that this is the reality of Black folks in this country right now. Specifically the Black folks whose shared experience is as the descendants of slaves. You should be reminded. Me, you, and everybody who lives here as Americans. There is a group of people who are American in name, but who are not American in practice. If you have this painting on your wall, what you should say to yourself is is there are people living like this. This is their reality every day. What should I do to make these folks American just like me? If you’re white, ask what should I do to make these folks who built this country American just like me so they have the same rights, privileges and protections, just like me. When it comes to the bleakness, I want people to see themselves in this work. See that poverty, see those stresses, see the disrepair. If we're going to talk about equality in this country, let it start with me."