Art Takes Flight

Centering the Black experience through art

  • Jacqueline Gray Miller
  • Equity and Justice
  • Jun 01, 2021

In these striking illustrations by artist Adrian Brandon, the scene beyond a black-necked stilt (above) illuminates enslaved people’s plight. The noose as a perch for extinct Carolina parakeets (below) is symbolic, bringing back “all the memories of crimes committed against our ancestors and to us until this day,” says Brandon (bottom).

A painting of Carolina parakeets

RUBY. THAT'S THE NAME Brooklyn-based artist Adrian Brandon bestows on the northern cardinal that frequents his fire escape. Last winter, Ruby’s visits brightened the days with color and whistled song—and coincided with the artist completing his most recent works, including these striking illustrations of a black-necked stilt (top) and a ring of extinct Carolina parakeets. 

These birds take flight in Audubon magazine’s spring issue, complementing an article that ornithologist J. Drew Lanham wrote about the racist legacy of the founding father of American birding, John James Audubon. In the piece, Lanham explores his identities as a Black birdwatcher, biologist and person “in love with birds” who grew up revering the famous bird paintings of a man who had once owned enslaved people. 

A headshot of artist Adrian Brandon

“Art is a way to distill such complexities,” says Brandon, renowned for his collection “Stolen”—depictions of Black people robbed of their lives by police. In his Audubon art, the scene beyond the stilt illuminates enslaved people’s plight, and the noose as a perch for extinct parakeets is symbolic. “It brings back all the memories of crimes committed against our ancestors and to us until this day,” he says.

Jacqueline Gray Miller is a writer, business owner, college instructor and director-at-large on the Alabama Audubon Board.

More from National Wildlife magazine and the National Wildlife Federation:

Art of the Possible »
Blog: A Statement from Our Chief Executive Officer »
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