One of the standout pieces from “We the People,” an exhibition at the Minnesota Museum of Art that mines American identity and positions artists in the resistance, is called Origin. The mystical photograph, by Minneapolis artist Bobby Rogers, depicts Mitochondrial Eve, the matrilineal most recent common ancestor of all living humans.
The black-skinned figure wears a hijab with gold chains covering her face, her eyes white like diamonds. The image pays homage to the theory that Eve was East African. The woman is startling, emanating a powerful force.
The piece, which was used in the publicity for the exhibition, is just one of the ways Rogers has gotten notice of late. He’s also been featured in Elle and Refinery29 for his #beingblackandmuslim project, and on Buzzfeed News for his Don’t Touch My Crown series, which celebrates black hair.
Rogers often gets his ideas listening to music, or in the middle of the night when he’s half asleep. “I love futurism,” he says. “I love different African diaspora cultures. A lot of [my] pieces are mixing all of those things together.”
Originally from Minneapolis, he’s always been interested in documenting marginalized communities. While he doesn’t consider his work overtly political, he is interested in taking on topics such as xenophobia and anti-blackness.
“I don’t want to display negativity happening to these people," he says. "I want to show beauty and positivity; to humanize different groups of people that I identify with. These are people with emotions, and with compassion.”
Rogers’ recent successes can be attributed partly to how his work plays on social media. He posts most of his images on Instagram after he completes them.
“A lot of the work I create now is purely from the love of wanting to do it,” he says. “I have the idea and want to put it out there.”
His followings on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter help him spread his work around, which in turn has ignited interest from galleries and buyers, as well as clients hitting him up to create new work.
In the past, Rogers tried emailing publications or contacting design studios or magazines, which didn’t amount to much. “I think that my background in illustration and design gives me a different perspective on how to market my art,” he says. “Instead of paying money to buy ads, I have a following.”
Rogers went to school for illustration and design at MCAD. After he left the art college, he kept having ideas for pieces, but he didn’t think illustration was the best way to execute that idea. “It prompted me to creatively release that energy,” he says.
He had always photographed his own work as a way of documenting it. “So why don’t I just do photography as a medium instead?” he concluded.
You can see Rogers’ background in illustration and design in his photography work. His penchant for vivid colors and textures can be seen in his #beingblackandmuslim portrait series. There’s a sense of playfulness and fun in his Don’t Touch My Crown series, where black hair is decorated with pink ribbons on men and women.
“A lot of people think I do fashion photography,” Rogers says. “Even though I do photography that’s more about fine art or cultural or documentary, I'm heavily influenced by that person in me that really likes fashion. A lot of the photos I take have an aesthetic edge.”
Rogers’ successes also include participating in a group show at Public Functionary, “The Shop,” where two pieces were purchased by the Minnesota Historical Society. Later in October, Rogers will have a solo show at the gallery as well.