African symbolism art on display
Vibrant colors dance from incarcerated artist Lamavis “Shorty” Comundoiwilla’s paint brush on multiple canvases he transports viewers of his art in what can be deemed as Afro-Futurism. The fusion of pointillism (dots) and expressionism mixed with a dash of African symbolism in his painting The Feminine Yacub of 2042.
“It’s pulling from ancient historical figures to address modern problems, to give it modern relevancy,” Comundoiwilla said. During San Quentin’s COVID-19 outbreak and fourteen months of limited prison programing Shorty’s tiny cell become his art studio.
His life-sized piece The Feminine Yacub of 2042 depicts all-seeing eyes, pyramids, circles and cube shapes that are strategically placed around three African queens in full tribal dress. At 5 feet 6 inches tall, the painting towers over Comundoiwilla, who stands at 5 feet 4 inches. Native American hobby beads and jewelry are glued to the painting adding another dimension of realism. Reds, whites and yellow hues are added to his paintings to represent the different races and cultures.
I have a right to be Black. I was born American. I’m making it my mission to replace what has been destroyed with Black art.
“Black people have been in the forefront of the Civil Rights movement and with The Feminine Yacub of 2042 it captures the advancement of the mixture of cultures. Also it speaks to prisoners’ rights, gay rights and it’s just an extension of our God-given right to be who we are,” he explained of his work.
Shorty has only been painting for four years. Before that, he just drew with pencils and colored pens. He got his inspiration to paint when he was in lockdown at another prison. It was Mother’s Day and he couldn’t make it to the commissary to buy a card so he painted his mother something special.
“My mother had the picture blown up and put on the living room wall. Then my father bought me art supplies and said do more,” reflected Shorty. He said the images that he paints are like a private conversation he is having with his parents about “equality.”
“The art lets my parents know how much I have grown and my understanding of the world. Also this is who I am and this is what I think.” He credits Arts and Corrections teachers Carol Newberg and the late Paul Mooney for giving him the tools to express himself. “I’m not as angry as I use to be — art is calming.” He appreciates the way that artwork allows him to study history, as well as his own place in it, and bring something positive into the world.
With all the police killings over the years, Shorty believes there needs to be more positive images of Black people and their experiences. “I have a right to be Black. I was born American. I’m making it my mission to replace what has been destroyed with Black art.” Even in the midst of all the pain, Shorty believes art produces joy and love. “Like Paul Mooney once told me, ‘Always paint colorful.’ ”