Amoz Wright and the art of healing
When he was growing up, they told him to go into business so he could make money. But for the Dixmoor native and visual artist, money and fame weren't on his shortlist. It was healing for all.
A middle-aged woman, clad in a bathrobe, house shoes, and hair in rollers, recounts her frustration over the leaky faucet that leaks no more.
Parents rush children into cars to get to the Village Hall before high-in-demand bundles of water are gone.
Last October, residents in the Village of Dixmoor were left without water for a week when a pipeline burst. Schools went remote. There were boil orders. Long-term improvements were announced.
And then it happened again. During a global pandemic.
“Sometimes, the resources can be… limited,” Amoz Wright, 24, said of his hometown.
Even water. In these circumstances, where others easily resort to fatalism, Wright finds motivation.
“Growing up in Dixmoor has been important for me to tap into my imagination. When I look out and see these resources that maybe other people might have, I don’t have them, it fosters this drive, or this ambition to want to create,” Wright said.
The soft-spoken Wright is a graphic arts designer and filmmaker. He uses his artwork to spread messages of healing. His pieces resonate most in places often spoken in terms of what they lack as opposed to what they have. Where gun violence rages. Where basic amenities are slim. Where hope lives.
Love and light in hidden places
Dixmoor is nestled directly south of Chicago, but “even though it sits next to one of the major cities of America, not many people have heard of Dixmoor,” Wright lamented. “In my opinion, it feels like a hidden place.”
Black people make up 50% of the population. Latino residents 36%. And white residents 14%. Mobile home communities replace backyard pools and white picket fences. Potholes in place of freshly paved roads. Sidewalks so cracked, they’re prepared to swallow you whole. The Village challenges our understanding of “the suburbs.”
Wright’s a self-taught muralist and portraitist. T here’s an intense focus on African iconography. He flowers his work with a bold, vibrant color palette. A spiritual expression pokes at our intellect. The confluence of which favors an Afro-Futuristic aesthetic.
He’s known for using art to spread the Gospel. “I think the messages that I gain from my walk of faith — things that are beneficial to me, things that can bring a lot of healing to the world, I like to find unique ways to put it in my artwork so that others can hopefully grab some sort of nourishment,” he said.
In Harvey, Wright teamed up with hometown hero LaRoyce Hawkins of NBC’s Chicago P.D. fame and other creatives to erect a mural in the city’s downtown area. It’s called the Harvey World Wall.
“We want to slowly but surely attack the darkness with light,” Wright said of the project, a series of murals which may take 10 to 12 years to complete.
Downtown Harvey is an ominous sight. It’s without hustle and bustle. What appears to be a gray, imperial medieval castle looms in the distance. It was really an old grain elevator used to store train cars.
A relic of an industrial past, it’s now a shelter. For decades, the homeless have slept there, escaping flinching cold winters. And you can see ‘Bum’s Castle,’ as locals call it, from the Wall.
Wright’s section of the mural, dubbed ‘Talk that Talk,’ depicts a bearded man. His mouth wide open. His face, a culmination of lilac and royal purple, bears resemblance of African descent. “My voice is,” he screams. A single, bright yellow word accentuates his face: light.
Wright drew inspiration from Genesis 1:3: the Creation Story. “God said let there be light,” Wright narrated with excellent memory. The production of light, Wright alluded, is a collective experience.
“...Within our voices we have the power not only to create, but we also have the power to heal … and our testimony can lead to healing of others.” - Amoz Wright
If you have a platform, it’s best to use it wisely, he deduced. “If we’re gonna speak things with our voices, let’s speak things of light … things that bring peace,” he said.
H is father’s a carpenter and his mother an illustrator, graphic arts designer, and natural health specialist. One of five children, his brother Ira is an actor and Malachi a visual artist.
“My family is the foundation of my love as an artist,” Wright remarked, adding they attend church together regularly. “They keep me grounded in my relationship with God. They keep me as sharp as iron sharpens iron.”
The film that almost wasn’t
Last November, Wright premiered his short film Evil for Evil at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre. It’s a drama that explores the effects of violence on Black men in Dixmoor and Harvey. Chicago artist Ridgio helped produce an accompanying film soundtrack inspired by the film exploring the same themes.
“When I think of mental health, I think of spiritual health,” Wright said, noting the film’s title takes from Roman 12:17 (Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone).
At first glance, Wright’s directorial debut challenges the audience to interrogate the usefulness — or lack thereof, of revenge. On a larger scale, it’s also a primer about creating safer communities.
What role does mental health serve in anti-violence work? How do we collectively build an infrastructure around restorative justice? And to what extent should we be critical of those who resort to violence in the absence of that infrastructure?
“I got too many obituaries on my top shelf,” Chicago native Ricky Rampage, who starred as antagonist TC, detested. November is mental health month but “Black men — we don’t get to talk about mental health.”
According to the National Institute on Minority Health and Disparities, Black men are 4 times more likely to die by suicide than white men.
While this wasn’t his first film rodeo, Wright wore multiple hats: writer, director, and producer. Filmed following the civil unrest over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Evil almost didn’t happen.
“The goal we had set for ourselves was to raise $20,000 to shoot the film successfully,” he said of a fundraising effort, but the team came up short. “We ended up raising $3,700,” with a goal of wrapping in September 2020.
The crew persevered with the money and small, inexperienced crew they had. Shot over a week and released over a year later, PSA Productions helped with post-production. “About a week into editing, we lost audio from the last 3 days of shooting,” Wright jokingly reflected.
“We did end up using some of the audio directly from the camera, but we also brought in most of the actors to come in and re-record parts of the audio in Shawn’s [a producer with PSA who co-edited the film with Wright] studio.”
That included Marcellus Jamaal, who played the lead role of Josiah King. “He actually had to fly in from Colorado to re-record his audio,” Wright said in amazement. Still seemingly in shock that Jamaal would do such a thing. It’s even more significant in face of the fact that no one, not even Wright, was paid.
They worked 12 hour days. Navigated scheduling conflicts. Booked flights to re-record audio. It was truly a collaborative effort. His brother Ira stars and Malachi even helped with the soundtrack. “Everybody did it out of the passion of getting the story told,” Wright said.
On to the next one
It’s been 5 months since the Evil premiere, and Wright’s focused on bringing his film to grander audiences.
“The goal is to get this movie out to as many people as possible,” Wright said.
His artwork, he contended, was meant for communities like Dixmoor, Harvey, and surrounding suburbs. Communities where pain and violence reverberate. Where guns are easier to find than a mental health clinic. He stressed that “this is a story made for us by us.”
Wright holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from DePaul University in Chicago. But he wants to return to his high school alma mater, Thornton Township High School in Harvey, to host a community film screening for Evil. Fighting and a recent shooting on school grounds rocked the community.
“Maybe students can participate in some way — respond to the question that we have within the film, which is ‘what does freedom mean to you?’ Wright proposed.
He’s also laser-focused on credibility.
“Future consumers of what I do can have some sort of hope and faith that Amoz is here to make movies and he’s serious about this,” Wright beamed. “[my name] can be mentioned with the likes of Ryan Coogler,” of Black Panther and Fruitvale Station fame, “or even Spike Lee. Some of the greatest directors we know of. These people I hope to call my peers,” he added.
Additional traction would also springboard interest in his next project. Make Believe is a coming-of-age story about a young man who moves to Chicago to find himself. While there’s no release date yet, Wright said production has begun, and his team is applying for grants to fund filming, which they hope to complete this summer.
Reflecting on his film premiere, for Wright, it’s an affirmation a career as a creative was always possible. Growing up, that’s not what some people around him believed, however.
“... Some of the people I looked up to in my community told me that it would be impossible to be a creative and successfully make a living off of it,” Wright reflected. Instead, they encouraged him to consider engineering or “something else that I could find money and happiness in,” he added.
From Chicago to overseas, Wright’s client list is extensive: Showtime’s “The Chi.” NBC Sports Chicago. The Chicago White Sox. Pillars. He even designed brand identity kits for companies in Melbourne, Australia, while in college.
Even then, he’s not boastful or arrogant. Because for a young Black man from Dixmoor, fame or money weren’t on Wright’s shortlist.
“My pursuit was never for money, but it was always to spread true life and love. That money will follow because I trust God that my works will always pay off as long as I remain faithful.”
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