Mario Moore's Stay Woke

Mario Moore’s silverpoint drawing Stay Woke is an arresting and visionary self-portrait that utilizes an exacting and exquisite technique to evoke the charged intersection of personal trauma and institutional racism. The artist made this exceptional work prior to the group of large-scale portraits of African American members of Princeton University’s staff that he recently painted as the 2018–19 Hodder Fellow in Visual Arts. In Moore’s words,

Mario Moore (American, born 1987), Stay Woke, 2018. Silverpoint on prepared paper, 91.4 × 134.6 cm. Princeton University Art Museum. Museum purchase, Felton Gibbons Fund. © Mario Moore"Stay Woke is part of a larger group of works about recovery completed after I underwent brain surgery. It references the two-sided mental state that Black men face, needing to be constantly prepared even when taking time to recover from traumatic experiences. The poster above my head in the drawing is of the political activist Fred Hampton, who was chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party when he was assassinated in his Chicago apartment at the age of twenty-one on December 4, 1969, by the FBI and local police force. Fred Hampton was killed while he was sleeping. The figure of me lying down represents how unreasonably prepared Black men need to be at all times—so much so that I have on all of my clothes, a coat and a gun at the ready."

As practiced by artists since the Middle Ages, the silverpoint technique involves applying a silver stylus to a coated surface, leaving behind a uniform, indelible, and shimmering line. In the drawings from his Recovery series, Moore seized on the expressive potential of the medium’s softness and durability to portray himself and African American male icons—including Miles Davis, Muhammad Ali, and Malcolm X—in fleeting attitudes of rest and reverie that could be interrupted at a moment’s notice, as is vividly conveyed in Stay Woke.

Laura Giles
Heather and Paul G. Haaga Jr., Class of 1970, Curator of Prints and Drawings