Jason Innocent is a conceptual artist who explores language norms and contemporary social issues such as racism, inequalities, and gender stereotypes. His main inspirations come from his experience growing up in the Flatbush neighborhoods, which are mostly comprised of the working class and immigrant residents. As a culturally diverse place, Innocent has been exposed to culture clash in his daily life.
Innocent was born and raised with his brothers and his parents from Haiti in Brooklyn Prospect Lefferts Gardens, New York. There he attended Murry Bergtraum High School, where he graduated in 2014. He then went to business school at Predominantly Black Medgar Ever College named after civil rights leader and NCAAP field secretary Medgar Wiley Evers.
Despite having spent his childhood in poverty and with a dysfunctional family, the artist has taken all his experiences as a motivation to continue growing and reach the great galleries of New York, as he has dreamed of since he was a child. It has been thanks to the effort of his mother, who kept him focused so that he does not become a product of his environment.
Since he was a child, the artist has felt a great attraction to art, which has been a medium for him to channel and interpret the reality that surrounds him. Innocent gained notoriety for his graffiti in lower Manhattan, which had a mixture of drawings, phrases, words, poetry, and lines. Since then, he had participated in exhibitions and publications since 2016, when he exhibited individually for the first time at the “Wall” event at The Living Gallery Brooklyn. There he showed his collection of text works that appeal to the viewer’s reflection.
His work is political since, as an artist, Jason has the power to convey a message to his viewers and therefore considers it his responsibility to promote social change. Innocent is the youngest African-American artist and the first to have two works with different themes, “Ego Maniac” and “39 Drawings”. He currently lives and works in Brooklyn.
Jason published his first artist book called “39 Drawings”, a series of drawings and nonfiction phrases that the artist made since his adolescence. These represent a set of early reflections that reflect his innocence but also his personal growth. They address issues such as social justice, as in the works Uncle Tom, Origin of Negros and Sweetwater Clifton, his artistic ambitions, and a set of references to writers, historical figures, artists, and philosophical constructions.
This project serves as evidence of the style that Jason has been building. His artworks are characterized by their simplification and childlike aesthetics, in the sense that the artist uses minimal curves and lines to focus on the depth of the message, without aesthetic ornaments that distract the viewer’s perception. This pictorial resource should not be confused with technical carelessness or a naive discourse; his ingenuity is more illusory than real. The scribbles and words represented through gestural strokes are pure expressionism that demonstrates the spontaneity and strength of the artist.
The word has played a fundamental role from the beginning of his artistic career, both in “39 Drawings” and in later works. In the first case, words appear in almost all the pieces, and even many of them are only made up of sentences written backward or crossed out. It is a way of highlighting the thought more captivatingly with powerful phrases. He has also experienced word binding in a similar way to Scrabble by promoting the deconstruction of the rules of language.
In 2016, Innocent carried out the work “Ego Maniac” with the photographer Alex Wong. It consisted of a poster with the image of Donald Trump with that phrase written on his face, which was distributed during his election campaign in the streets of different neighborhoods. With this performative intervention, the artist returns to the roots of urban art to denounce his position against the current president and the importance of the democratic vote. This work acted as a way of approaching the spectator – who is a passer-by – and awakening their reflection so that they understand the impact of small actions on society. As well as highlighting the potential of public art and its significance, it is a shared space for all citizens, making it the right site for social struggles to take place and for democracy to be activated. Art located in the streets breaks down all the barriers that hinder its access and reminds us that the enjoyment of culture is a social right.
In 2017, Jason returned to the spotlight with another work in which he strongly expresses his political opinion. In “American Flag,” the artist disarms and re-signifies the concept of the United States flag and questions what it represents for citizens. The flag is a national symbol for all countries and is rooted in their ideology, which in the US translates into nationalist pride and other class-based concepts of the social imaginary as the American dream. However, this is in contrast to the social inequality and violence due to racism that is growing at an abysmal rate. Through unorthodox typography, he created a flag that includes the words NO RACISM, NO SEXISM, NO ABLEISM, NO FATPHOBIA, NO AGEISM, NO TRANSPHOBIA, NO HOMOPHOBIA, and NO HATEFULNESS.
Innocent has taken confidence and experience along these years, which has allowed him to carry out his audiovisual projects “Dissection” (2019) and “Masculinity” (2020), in which he dives into the depths of contemporary social conflicts. Dissection addresses the experience of being black in the United States through a collection of interviews with African-American men, women, and transgender people about love, their American experience, pride, and insecurity.
Masculinity” is a short documentary film written and directed by him. This time, men and women are interviewed for their reflections on the social pressures on manhood as it is a topic not usually talked about. Toxic masculinity is a patriarchal construction that also affects men in a harmful way. Innocent denounces that this conflict should not only be made visible by the feminist movements but that it is necessary and urgent for men to debate their own experience. It is up to them to put an end to toxic masculinity, which involves, among many other things, supposed qualities such as strength, virility, leadership, or coldness.
Innocent today is considered an emerging filmmaker who has perfectly encapsulated the complexity of the African American experience by taking to the streets of New York City to receive an everyday perspective, and has captured moving thoughts from different people. He has also introduced into gender norms from the male voice.