the vulnerability of Black Artistry, a dialogue with MICHAEL-JAMAR JEAN FRANCOIS

What was your journey into Artistry?
I started in orchestra in fifth grade- there was a teacher Mr. Stott who came to Highlands Elementary and was like, “hey I can play Get Your Freak On by Missy Elliot on the violin”. And then he became my teacher from fifth to twelfth grade (shoutout Mr. Stott). My brother also influenced my coming into music, he introduced me to everything from Sisqo, Incubus, Nirvana, Nas, Disturbed – so I was able to get this huge, eclectic music taste early on. 

I also was a destructive kid with an innate need to destroy and rebuild – often would tear different things apart and challenge myself to piece them back. When I was nine, I took apart my dad’s computer, and couldn’t put it back together til about eleven. Which it never functioned back again, but I could at least connect the parts together. I was the only artist in my family- my mom kind of was an artist. Once when I was on vacation, she painted my room in seafoam green and red large checkerboard print. That was funny.

What does vulnerability mean to you?

Being as open as you can be. It means damn near showing all of your cards, and knowing that there are topics that people consider uncomfortable but still speaking truth in it. And flushing this idea of “one way” down the toilet because everything in life is a double edged sword. I don’t think there are many things that are innately good, or innately evil, or innately great, so to me vulnerability means understanding both sides can always be sharpened.

Photography by Michael Jamar

What theme or message follows you on your creative path?

Remaining uninhibited seems to be the name of the game for me. The more I overthink, the more I get lost or frustrated into writer’s block. I think when I let myself be in the mood, or feeling of what is coming up – I have the opportunity to enjoy what I’m creating. On the opposite end, if I’m pre planning, and wondering “do I want to post this?”, “do I want to add this to my collection?” then I’m less likely to make what’s authentic to myself. And I’m a tinkerer through and through. I am gameplay before story. Aesthetics before continuity. For me, it’s less about production because I enjoy the day-to-day operation of creating. And that’s where I want that uninhibited thought process to be coming in. 

How do you practice moving through fear?

There was a fear mentality built into my household- I remember my mom constantly watching the news, telling me who was dying somewhere halfway around the world, having strict curfews so I wouldn’t be taken. I felt absorbed by that fear. And it’s been a long process of realizing my strengths, and being reassured through art. I do photography, write spoken word, play multiple instruments and have been for over fifteen years of my life. The practice of my practices helps me conquer my fear. And there are parts of life where that fear still is, but building a strong foundation has helped mitigate it. 

Photography by Michael Jamar

How to cultivate more openness?

By just doing it. Anything that’s uncomfortable requires consistency to do, because it’s not going to come innately. Like, how many white people will talk to someone who lives in PV, or talk to non white community members who aren’t already in their circles? And that’s just naming one situation on discomfort. I think the truth is that nothing happens unless you try. We can talk about it all we want but without the effort no action happens.

What are some pushbacks, from your experience, specific to Black Artistry and Black Creativity?

There’s this feeling when it comes to digital art. That it has to be elaborate or connected to pop culture. And when it’s not the art isn’t appreciated as worthy, or important. 

And my artistry is more on the raw side. It may not feel underdeveloped to me. But I get that it can be considered that way by someone else. Mass society will tell us different but it doesn’t always have to be about a particular message. 

There are regular degular people who just like to find different ways of existing with their art. And my art doesn’t have to be consumed with any particular story about my Blackness. My Blackness is my existence, it’s part of me. I can emote and I know what I am culturally. And yes it plays a part in my art, and how I exist. I get that perspective. I just don’t like the idea of being wrapped in a category, simply because of my heritage, my culture, or my people. 

Photography by Michael Jamar

What do you hope for?

Personally, to let go of any toxic habits. Specifically, around food and building a steadier relationship to it. I was pre diabetic at thirteen. Lost a bunch of weight. Was on the track I wanted to be and one day something happened that brought me back. So now I see a therapist, and nutritionist who support me. 

I also hope to create with more people. Like experimental sessions and making sound bites just for fun. 

And what I hope for others is that, people learn to accept different perspectives. We can all have better conversation, more realness, and less hypocrisy. We live in an extremely hypocritical world. We say we care about things but you know. 

Give it fifteen minutes, give it distance and we can see how much we actually care. It’s very real for us to do that. It’s part of human nature. But I think it’s also part of these systems we live in, and how we relate to them. 

Systems are just tools at the end of the day. So let’s gain more perspective. Relax a little. The fact is that you’re going to run into people you don’t vibe with on a regular basis. Learn to be okay with that. I hope that in the future we do this, and our next generations are way better. Because, people aren’t going to see the results or fruits of our labor in this generation. Maybe not even the next couple ones. 

Trees grow for so many years. And when you plant the seed of tree, you plant it knowing you will never see it reach its fullest size. We gotta be real that we’re not immortal. And that’s okay… yeah, that’s okay.

How can this community support you?

Come see my stuff! I did an experimental set called Fountain Creek where it was just me doing vocals. I’ll usually invite people to make noises with me. We create this environment together that sounds like a space-age alien nature spot with guttural and creature sounds. I want people to see me in that light a little more, because I do tend play a background role. I do have that strength. But I’ve noticed community doesn’t always come out for me and I wish they would. My friends do though and I’m really thankful for them. But in general my sets are an opportunity to see something raw instead of well rehearsed. And there’s some value in seeing someone practice, in seeing someone be. 


We are made better, warmer, kinder by your presence in this community.

To hear MJ’s mixes, check out his Soundcloud

Also make sure to follow his IG, and website!


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