Born 1973, Houston, Texas; lives in Houston, Texas

Jamal Cyrus’s practice is heavily influenced by the history of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, including its subsequent collapse in the 1970s into splintered movements and the appropriation of its styles by mainstream culture. In 2005, as part of his work incorporating found album covers, Cyrus created a fictional 1970s record label called Pride Records, complete with an invented history. In Cyrus’s telling, Pride Records was closely monitored by the FBI for releasing records deemed subversive by the agency. The FBI eventually coerced the label into releasing counter-revolutionary disco music, thereby neutralizing its ability to affect social and political change. This fictionalized narrative echoes the real evolution of disco in the United States, which is often seen as a capitulation to mainstream consensus in contrast to the more outspoken radical black music of the 1960s and 1970s.

The Dowling Street Martyr Brigade, “Towards a Walk in the Sun” (2005), “released” on Pride Records, is a collage made on top of an album cover of Cream’s Disraeli Gears (1967). The psychedelic imagery has been partially obscured by a black-and-white cutout of a group of marching black militants, clenched fists held aloft, carrying a coffin that represents writer and poet Henry Dumas’s mythological “Ark of Bones,” commemorating those lives lost in racist acts (Dumas himself was killed in a confrontation with New York Transit Authority police in 1968). The felt-tipped name of the record’s previous owner is still visible at the top of the album, and the text “Towards a Walk in the Sun” has been printed in black and white across its bottom. Cyrus’s placement of the marchers in the center of the photograph reworks the mild-mannered hippie imagery into a critical remembrance of racism in U.S. history.

Other signifiers of the civil rights movement and the black liberation movement appear in Hands Off (package design prototype) (2005), a hand-drawn design for “genuine anti-agent ointment.” In addition to the pun on anti-aging cream, Hands Off invokes both the black beauty industry’s involvement in the creation of skin whitening creams and, at the other end of the spectrum, the black pride slogan “Black Is Beautiful.” The sales pitch on the container reads “Makes your black political acts appear counter-revolutionary,” a reminder of how the FBI kept active surveillance on black civil rights leaders under the COINTEL-PRO (counter-intelligence program). Cyrus’s sculptures, drawings, and collages create a defiant black aesthetic with which he offers his own version of African American history.


Cyrus is a member of Otabenga Jones & Associates, also in the 2006 Biennial.

...read more about this artist in the Biennial Catalogue

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The Dowling Street Martyr Brigade, “Towards a Walk in the Sun,” 2005. Collage on paper, 12 5/16 x 12½ in. (31.3 x 31.8 cm). Collection of the artist