Sebastein Miller’s Civil Disobedience variously references photojournalism, album art, protest imagery, comic books, films, and video games. The use of digital montage foregrounds his works’ constructed nature, highlighting the gaps between posited futures and depictable reality. Through animated counter-narratives, the Toronto-based artist uses satire to comment on science, race, and the nature of resistance, and to analyze how Black North American icons circulate in popular culture.
“Black life is not lived in the world that the world lives, but it is lived underground, in outer space.” —Jared Sexton, The social life of social death: On afro-pessimism and black optimism
“All attempts to repress our/black peoples’ right to gaze had produced in us an overwhelming longing to look, a rebellious desire, an oppositional gaze. By courageously looking, we defiantly declared: ‘Not only will I stare. I want my look to change reality.’” —bell hooks, Black Looks
At what point does memory obscure rather than clarify? In Civil Disobedience, Miller’s audacious images pull at the boundaries of time and legacy, mixing pop culture, protest imagery, and spiritual iconography to express his interpretation of history, culture, and human consciousness.
The Underground Railroad, Martin Luther King Jr., N.W.A, Malcolm X, the 1990s sitcom Martin: these subjects are so unapologetically Black in their constitution that they have escaped the gravitational pull of white supremacy. Yet, through their canonization, they remain suspended in time and place; trapped between life and legacy. In MLK (2016), Miller engages the figure of Martin Luther King Jr. as both divine and human, past and present. This imagery offers viewers a glimpse into Miller’s worldview—an amalgam of cultural, socio-political, and spiritual experiences circumscribed by the Black radical tradition.
In Bohemian Grove (2019), Miller turns his gaze to the private club of the same name where, in 1942, a group of wealthy, powerful white men gathered to discuss the Manhattan Project. Here, Miller offers a counternarrative to the violence and decadence of the notorious site, re-imagining the gathering as a coming together of Black men across generations to discuss and create a Black New World Order.
In The Tree of Knowledge (2021) and The Path (2020), Adinkra and Christian symbols allude to Miller’s complex political and spiritual formation as he rethinks 20th-century Afro-American experience. Through the use of collage, digital montage, and video, Miller attempts to make sense of contemporary Black realities, exploring key tensions in Black male culture across inner/outer space and time. In the context of what bell hooks calls “imperialist, capitalist, white supremacist patriarchy,” Miller’s prefigurative work is not only a commentary on civil disobedience but is, itself, such an act.
Essay by Phillip Dwight Morgan
Curated by Carla Garnet