henrietta lacks
"Henrietta Lacks," 2015


Najee Dorsey’s exhibit “Southern Crossroads” will be featured at the Museum of Art – DeLand Downtown Galleries, Oct. 7-Dec. 23.

Dorsey is well-known as an “artrepreneur,” a term coined in 2012 by BlackEnterprise.com. He’s a prolific artist, and founder and CEO of Black Art in America™, a print publication and online media platform for African American artists, collectors, art enthusiasts and arts professionals. He and his wife, Seteria, also run the Black Art in America gallery and sculpture gardens in Atlanta.

“Return to Eden,” 2019

As the exhibition opens, Dorsey will make three appearances in DeLand: an art and entrepreneurship talk presented in partnership with Stetson University; an artist talk offered in conjunction with DeLand’s African American Museum of the Arts; and an opening reception and gallery walk and talk with the artist at the Downtown Galleries of the Museum of Art – DeLand.

Dorsey’s work is mixed media and photo montage, centered around African American culture and folklore. Most of his images depict stories of individuals who have triumphed over their circumstances.

“Google Robert Charles,” 2011

“Stories untold are stories forgotten,” Dorsey said. “Part of what I do is visual documentation that speaks to who we are, where we’ve been, and our journey. If we don’t continue to tell those stories of our humanity and the struggles we’ve overcome, they’ll be lost to history.”

Dorsey salvages images and materials from thrift stores and antiques shops, and combines them with historical portraits and photographs. He supplies depth and dimension by adding layers of text, paint, paper and found objects. Many of his images depict historical icons, and refer to social and political events that still resonate today.

“A perfect example is Google Robert Charles,” he said. “That’s one of the pieces in the show. Robert Charles fought off police brutality and harassment in New Orleans in the early 1900s. It’s very similar to what we see happening today with a lot of Black males, unarmed, just being subjugated to harassment and brutality, oftentimes not doing much to deserve it.”

He’s also proud of his portrait of Henrietta Lacks. “She was a woman in the 1950s who went to the hospital because she wasn’t feeling well and they ended up pulling some of her cells. Her cells continued to regenerate in petri dishes, which is unheard of. They basically used her cells for a lot of today’s modern medicine, yet the family never got any royalties off the billions and billions of dollars that have generated from their ancestor’s DNA — and many of them had no health insurance. It was an opportunity for me to tackle that issue.”

“This Is My Baldwin,” 2020-22

Dorsey takes a broad view of history. “My work spans not only from a cultural standpoint, but even some of the societal ills. ‘Southern Crossroads’ includes some pieces from a body of work that I did called the ‘Poor People’s Campaign.’” Those works, he said, serve as a jumping-off point to have a conversation about environmental racism.

“We live in plain sight of a lot of pollutants and landfills and refineries, especially in communities of color and communities where you find a lot of poor people, and that are disenfranchised and don’t have any political capital.”

While many of his compositions depict the trials and tribulations of the Black experience in America, Dorsey’s art also celebrates the pleasures of human existence.

“It’s not all political,” he said. “It’s not all social commentary. One of the featured pieces in the show is the piece Return to Eden. That piece is really about getting back to love, and sacred spaces, and loving on each other, and basically having this whimsical setting that depicts Black love and existence.”

Dorsey was raised in Arkansas, by a father from New Orleans and a mother from rural Arkansas. He says he can’t imagine living anywhere but the South.

“Even if I lived somewhere else, the South is a part of me. It’s in my DNA. I’ve embraced it. I’m as comfortable drinking out of a jelly jar as I am a champagne flute. I’m a very successful artist and CEO of a significant arts company, but when I walk around, I might look like the janitor to most people.

“I am who I am. The people who support me and the people who vibe with me, they’re not interested in those kinds of facades. They just want you to be real. They want you to be authentically who you are, about the art, about the culture, and just a good human.”

While he’s in DeLand, Dorsey will offer a session on art and business, designed with Stetson University students in mind. He’ll discuss his work as an artist and businessman, and talk about how he has built a brand that has grown exponentially during the past 12 years.

Part of his talk will be a cautionary tale.

“Money has a way of manipulating people’s integrity,” he said. “You see that even within the art world. When I talk to younger artists, I tell them that sometimes money and success can stunt your growth.

“Let me give you this example. If you start creating, you’re trying like every young artist to find your way. You create something, and next thing you know you get a sale. It’s just natural for you to think, okay, maybe this is what the people want. Maybe this is what I should be doing.

“The phrase I use is that money can kill creativity. Commerce can kill creativity. I think it happens. We start to have a little success, and we stop thinking about greater issues that we’ve got in this world, or how art can change lives, or make statements, or document what we’re going through. It becomes this thing where it becomes purely about revenue and creating something that people can hang over a sofa or in the lobby of some building as opposed to something that can really move people to think about who we are, how we live, and how we interact with each other.”

What does Dorsey hope viewers will take away from his DeLand exhibition?

“I think they’ll appreciate the range of my work, the range of the subject matter, and find something to really connect with.

“Technically, I think they’ll find the work really compelling in terms of how I’ve been able to create these environments in photomontage as well as in mixed media. So, they’ll definitely see my range in terms of creative imagination.

“I think they’ll also have the opportunity to consider some of the struggles we’ve had as a society, whether it’s dealing with the police, or the environment, or even personal stories like Henrietta Lacks, or some of the resistance pieces.”

You can learn more about Najee Dorsey at najeedorsey.com. Black Art in America is online at blackartinamerica.com.


Najee Dorsey’s DeLand appearances:

  • Dorsey will speak about art and entrepreneurship 3-5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 5, in the Museum of Art – DeLand’s main gallery at 600 N. Woodland Blvd. The presentation is offered in conjunction with Stetson University, and it’s open to everyone in the community. Admission is free.
  • Dorsey will offer an artist talk at the African American Museum of the Arts at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6. The talk will take place at the AAMA’s Noble “Thin Man” Watts Amphitheater, 322 S. Clara Ave. in DeLand. The artist talk is offered in conjunction with the African American Museum, and it’s open to everyone in the community. Admission is free.
  • Dorsey will also be the guest of honor at the exhibition’s opening on Friday, Oct. 7, at the museum’s Downtown Galleries, 100 N. Woodland Blvd. in DeLand. A welcome reception is scheduled 5-6 p.m., with a Gallery Walk and Talk with the artist 6-7 p.m. Admission is free for museum members and costs $10 for nonmembers. Reservations are appreciated. Call 386-734-4371, or email to contact@moartdeland.org.


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