HYATTSVILLE, Md. — Robert ‘Rohaun’ Stephenson, a visual storyteller, has created an art series called ‘Portraits for the Culture’ out of his quest for self-discovery as an African-American.
"I didn’t feel a part of this culture," Rohaun said. “I think that had to do with the fact that I was missing some -- there were some gaps in my understanding of what black culture was."
He said his knowledge and connection to American black culture lacked depth and understanding, and his family was unable to provide information about his ancestors’ history.
"In a sense, I was very shallow when it came to Black culture - to African-American culture, to understanding who I was as an African-American," Rohaun told WUSA9.
Rohaun began asking his friends to share stories about their families as a way for him to begin creating a better and deeper understanding of black culture.
"That’s why this project started because it was, one, as an artist art is always used as a tool of legacy," he explained. "So, I decided to use that same concept to create these portraits for individuals in exchange for their stories."
Rohaun used the stories of everyday people to not only understand what black culture is but to also learn more about the different types of people who make up black culture.
Those stories archive the positive experiences and challenges people have faced throughout their lives.
In exchange for people sharing their stories on camera, Rohaun gifted them their portraits free of charge.
"I gave them the portraits because what I wanted to happen was for them to hang those portraits and for them to then be able to pass them down to their children and create a legacy," he said.
As a part of the series, the artist also paints portraits of celebrities because they shine a light on a different aspect of black culture.
"The Barack Obama’s, the Maya Angelou’s, the Toni Morrison‘s, the Marcus Garvey’s, the Hewitt P. Newman‘s, the Angela Davis’, the Muhammad Ali‘s -- all of these people are setting precedents and sacrifice that the rest of us are lucky enough to have to follow," Rohaun said.
"You almost have people who are the trendsetters and the innovators, and the people who are the supporters, and the people who are the pushers," he said. "When you put them together then you have a bigger idea of how things have actually gotten pushed and accomplished within black culture."
Rohaun said he is working to push African-American culture forward by creating a platform for people to tell black stories, showcase themselves to the world, and to allow others to see how beautiful they are.
He hopes the series will serve as a source of inspiration for future generations and allow the black community to control its own narrative and stories within mainstream media.