San Quentin resident Reginald Yates embraces his ancestral roots by reviving some of the old traits of African tribal art.
Some may dismiss this as misguided attention to an extinct culture — but not Yates, who refuses to let this hidden treasure vanish.
“I just get a pleasure (out) of exposing this art to people who may never saw it,” said Yates, referring to a bird sitting on a stand and looking back, while reflecting on his experiences.
He named this bird Sam Kofa Bird, which symbolizes learning from experience, referring back to what the bird know about its past. Yates points out that when you know about your past, you will know what your future is going to be.
The artist’s creativity goes beyond subtitles or names.
He told SQNews about one canvas on which he painted multiple figurines, each with a different meaning.
At the top is an All Seeing Eye, which means that God is watching over us. Clockwise to the right, he points out a red tribal mask and describes how these ancestors were head hunters; they came from Bakuba, Zaire, on the continent of Africa.
In the same picture, he portrays other items such a sword named Goldsword Hilt, which comes from Ghana, Africa. In the middle of the painting, Yates sketched out a map of the African continent, giving it the national colors.
“Red is for the blood we shed, black is for the Black people, and green is for the land they took from our ancestors,” said Yates.
Painting gives him a voice and through it he tries to bring new generations an awareness of the importance of the African roots and tribal culture he thinks are rarely recognized in comparison to his school years.
At the bottom is the All Seeing Eye. Yates also included two black hands in the “hands up!” position, in reference to what is going on across the world.
“Black lives matter,” said Yates.
Finally, this canvas has a scarification representing the Batshioko tribe, in Zaire.
The artist shared with SQNews that it took him about three days to complete this project. “I wouldn’t change it for nothing. I love my work,” said Yates.
His style is based on the idea that this kind of art is not being promoted or displayed, compared to other arts across the globe.
“I enjoy the art because it connects me with my historical and ancestral attachment,” said Yates. “I am able to capture this diverse ethnic art and share it through my drawings.”
According to the artist, the vast majority of African art is wooden sculptures and masks. In prison, Yates has used canvas as his medium.
He explained the symbolism of these elaborate masks or sculptures that the ancestors made and possessed, and how he fabricates his own pieces. He believes that most of the essential information is lost or is stored in museums and publications.
As an artist he is dedicated to drawing the attention of his audience and to designing different styles of masks, giving them their unique identity.
He pointed out to SQNews a brown, eared mask with scarification on its forehead that represents the ancestral religion. It’s called Cihongo Mask and is inspired by the Tshokwe Ciwandawanda in Zaire. This scarification is part of their identity, taking viewers back over hundreds of years to their cultural ancestors.
The red mask, Bobo Mask, is vertical and has a plantlike structure springing from the top of a human or animal head; this kind of mask is found across a wide belt of sub-Saharan savanna region, from Mali and Upper Volta down into the northern Ivory Coast and Ghana areas.
Yates emphasized how many of these masks appear to be connected with the Do Society; they are worn in funerary rituals for important members. Yates believes they have been used in performances intended to cleanse villages of mystically dangerous and disruptive forces.
Yates is currently working on his next project, an Egyptian Bird Horus, centering the bird on the canvas. He thinks diving into one’s roots can be the perfect remedy for the depression and confinements of San Quentin.