A Black Minneapolis Artist Brings Hidden Communities to Light

3:43 PM Aida Alami 0 Comments

MINNEAPOLIS—Three years ago on a hot summer day, Philando Castile was shot and killed by police officer Jeronimo Yanez in Falcon Heights, a St. Paul suburb near Minneapolis. Bobby Rogers had recently graduated from art school and was turning from drawing to photography. As the two cities erupted in protests, Rogers documented the turmoil and anger with his camera.

“After Philando was killed by Officer Yanez, I understood that my individual perspective, not anyone else’s, is how I should tell the story of my people, with my people, for my people, and to my people,” Rogers says.

For his ongoing photographic portraits of Minneapolis gang members, Rogers, 27, and now resident photographer at Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center, reached back into his own past. He grew up in the Powderhorn neighborhood of South Minneapolis, an area where crime, violence, and drug trafficking were widespread two decades ago. Rogers was surrounded by gang members, but through it all, they and the rest of the community shielded him from trouble, predicting that a bright future awaited him.

His parents didn’t get a chance for a good life. They suffered from alcohol and drug addiction, and Rogers’s childhood was marked by constant moves back and forth between foster homes and back into his parents' care. He says his parents were from the generation that was under intense scrutiny during the war on drugs before becoming victims of drugs themselves. “My older brother would tell me stories of how my parents were like Bonnie and Clyde in their heyday,” he says. “Respected and feared. My dad was the quiet contemplative hustler and my mom was the enforcer.”

Despite his mother’s struggles, she was instrumental in his success, Rogers says, instructing him and his siblings to chant: “I am a leader! I am a soldier!” “She was preparing us for this world, the world she grew up in but was never able to talk about,” he said.

Rogers kept away from illegal activities and worked at his art. His first major foray at art was trying to improve his drawing skills by redrawing Pokemon cards when he was about six years old. Rogers graduated to studying illustration at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. In 2014, he started actively documenting anti-police brutality protests with a camera and discovered his medium.

“I’d have thousands of images by the end of the day, chronicling from the perspective of those who trusted me to occupy the space,” Rogers said of his initial entry into photography. “Eventually, as the movement transformed, so did my aesthetic and approach.” And in the same fashion as other artists of his generation, he didn’t seek the help of galleries to launch him, but instead used Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter to get his work known, highlighting subtle narratives of resilience and pride.

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