“Missing People”: How Art Tells Striking Real Life Stories in honor of Black History Month

I first learned about the artist Roy Ferdinand‘s and the collector Martina Batan‘s work through a screening of the film at the Andrew Edlin Gallery in 2021 as part of a larger ongoing exhibitions into 2023 “Roy Ferdinand: Gert Town, Sixteenth Ward, New Orleans.” In 2013, Andrew Edlin became an owner of the Outsider Art Fair (OAF), which was originally founded in New York in 1993 by Sanford Smith who was previously known for The Fall Antiques Show in 1979. Due to the success, an additional Outsider Art Fair launched in Paris, France in 2013, taking place in mid to late October. The Outsider Art Fair is taking place this year from March 2-5 at the Metropolitan Pavilion.

Trailer for the “Missing People” documentary, from the film’s site.

Martina Batan was for a long time the director of the Ronald Feldman Gallery and participated in a documentary called Missing People, directed by David Shapiro, focused on her brother (who died as a young boy suddenly and upsettingly). An African American artist in pre-Katrina New Orleans, Roy Ferdinand, who also died relatively young at 45. Batan collected over 200 pieces of his work, using her influence to highlight this otherwise little-known if not unknown artist with his almost comic book-like depictions of the world around him. He was a self-trained artist known for his figurative scenes of 1990s New Orleans, and some of the figures in these paintings are people that he knew in real life. Batan is a trail blazer in the sense that she found this artist, bought his work, and ultimately found a way to share it with the public.

Cindy with director David Shapiro at Andrew Edlin Gallery in front of Roy Ferdinand’s artwork
The neon message across from the Andrew Edlin Gallery on the New Museum
One of Ferdinand’s friends he painted – Art imitating and intimidating life

Roy Ferdinand (1959-2004)

Untitled, 1993

Watercolor, pen, marker and graphite on paper

32 x 40 inches

This work depicts a woman standing in a graveyard in front of a grave to an unknown individual who had died that year (1993). The central figure gazes out directly at the viewer, drawing them into the work, while casually holding a gun in her right hand. This work also shows evidence of Ferdinand’s process: underneath the “P” on the central tombstone, a smaller “HOMI” can be read, suggesting that he was experimenting with where to place the text while creating this and due to his use of translucent media, it is still legible.

Roy Ferdinand (1959-2004)

Untitled, 2000

Watercolor, marker, pen, crayon and graphite on paper

32 x 40 inches

This work depicts a complex scene of violence which contains many hints that only reveal themselves upon close looking. The two figures in the foreground draw the eye first, due in part to the bright red in both their outfits. Upon closer inspection, behind these two figures a second man with a gun holds up another man. Behind them, there is a shot police officer slumped in front of the cafe near another person with a gun. On the left, there are two shot people and one person peers around the corner of the cafe. Up on the roof, two construction workers look on in shock on the scene unfolding, much like the viewer of this work. Roy’s attention to detail in each part of the work rewards viewers as each noticing adds another layer to the drama unfolding.

His work continues to resonate with audiences today, as seen by recent comments on this Instagram post sharing his work:

People going missing continues to be a major issue in the United States today. The video below discusses 20 cases of missing people who were found. The vast majority of people reported as missing to the police are found alive, most soon after they are reported missing. In the case of missing children, familial abductions are the most common cause.

When looking at media coverage of missing people, it is clear that more attention is given to white people, like in the case of Gabby Petito, who tragically was killed by her boyfriend (who then tried to cover up the crime) in 2021. Of the 521,705 people reported missing in 2021, 59% were white (a category that includes Hispanic people) and 38% were a minority ethnicity, though only 18% of the US population was black. These statistics were compiled from the NCIC Missing Person and Unidentified Person Statistics by the Black and Missing Foundation, which was founded to help the families and loved ones of missing people of color find them and rectify this disparity.

#andrewedlingallery  #martinabatan #barristersgallery #neworleansart #independentNewYork @independent_hq @SargentsDaughters #outsiderartfair

Want to receive emails with more stories like this? Subscribe to the Museletter below:

Any Thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.