Harlem Globetrotter Guard Maxwell Pearce recently unveiled his inaugural exhibition, “The Art of an Athlete,” during Art Basel/Miami Art Week 2022 inside N’Namdi Contemporary Fine Art in Miami, Florida. In addition to a public viewing of his works, the exhibition also included a panel discussion that featured an array of today’s leading athletes who discussed the artwork and the seminal figures who inspired the pieces – from baseball legend Jackie Robinson, “42,” to Olympic Gold medalist Wilma Rudolph, “Wilma.” Other works in the collection paid homage to Muhammad Ali, Colin Kaepernick, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka.
“More Than an Athlete,” one of the most provocative pieces, highlights the history of racial injustice committed against African Americans, including Pearce, and includes fluorescent-lit references to former President Barack Obama, Black Lives Matter, Black voting rights and victims of police brutality. Pearce, 26, a native of Westchester County, New York, and a member of the highly-popular and inspiration Harlem Globetrotters for the past five years, has, since his formative years, displayed both a talent and passion for art but focused on sports, including tennis, cross country, football, baseball, and basketball as the basis of his professional career. During his matriculation at The State University of New York at Purchase, he majored in economics and took a few courses in visual arts but put his dreams of becoming an artist on the backburner. However, an unforeseen series of events would result in Pearce, an admittedly shy individual, to employ his creative abilities as a means of speaking out against racism and injustice.
ART OFTEN ILLUSTRATES LIFE
During a live interview in 2020 on Good Day Alabama, a featured newscast on a Fox affiliate based in Birmingham, Alabama, while showing his Globetrotter-inspired wizardry, the two anchors, in lieu of a basketball, threw pieces of fruit at Pearce – several tangerines and a banana. Pearce remembers the occurrence vividly and said he was shocked – unable to ascertain the rationale for two media professionals to conduct themselves in such an inappropriate and disrespectful manner. Even more, he said he found himself unsure as to how to respond. “It clearly diminished the Hall of Fame legacy of the Globetrotters and illustrated an unacceptable lack of awareness,” he said. “Here we were in Birmingham, the city where four little Black girls were murdered in church in 1963 and where Dr. King was put in prison after leading a peaceful protest.” Pearce added that he didn’t want to cast a negative light on the Globetrotters and tried to forget or dismiss the entire situation.
However, after the interview went viral, Pearce found himself in the center of a melee. More than anything, he found himself trapped in a constant battle, wondering if he should continue to compromise his integrity or speak out against what he saw as a blatant example of racism. Fox officials asked him to return for an interview to clear the air and address his concerns. Still, Pearce remained dissatisfied, adding that he felt ashamed for not immediately voicing his disgruntlement. “When the second interview aired, the hosts omitted the historical references I had offered of how Blacks have long been disrespected, cast as less than human and humiliated,” he said. “They failed to consider how throwing fruit at me could be deemed as offensive – just another example of how history has been presented to favor and save face of the oppressor.” “The most relevant part of the interview that they chose to eliminate were my comments about Ota Benga (c. 1883 – March 20, 1916) – a Mbuti (Congo pygmy) man featured in an exhibit at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri and as a human zoo exhibit in 1906 at the Bronx Zoo.” Pearce recalled receiving hate mail – even death threats – in a backlash of vitriolic messages that he said seemed to suggest that as a Black athlete, he should stick to “dribbling a basketball” and leave issues of racism and injustice to “someone more competent.” But he said he refused to allow others to shape his narrative, following the example of Black athletes from the past. In short, Pearce made national news after taking a public stance on the racially insensitive incident by posting a social justice-focused video on social media.
THE COVID PANDEMIC OPENS A NEW DOOR
Like the rest of the world, Pearce was forced to quarantine at home. He channeled his frustration into “The Art of An Athlete” – a vibrant fine art, mixed media and athletic material collection that highlights sports figures who have used their platforms to fight for social justice throughout history by examining the different forms of protest from one generation to the next. My work explores the multitudes of ideas within Black athleticism and celebrates athletes’ individual ability to do more than dribble, shoot and score,” he said. “It honors the literal ties that connect athletes across generations and binds them to public, collective memory.” Pearce said he would be turned away from several art dealers and venues while attempting to promote his exhibition. But he remained undaunted. The owner of Miami’s N’Namdi Contemporary Fine Art recognized the significance of his work and invited the emerging artist to showcase his exhibition.
He concludes, ““When I think about Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery or George Floyd, I am reminded that we have so much work that remains to be done. With that in mind and given the senseless deaths of so many others, it’s important to keep love, empathy and courage in the forefront of our minds. I hope my work will contribute to that worthy cause and mission,” he said.
D. Kevin McNeir (Dominic), an award-winning journalist, has been an editor and senior reporter with the Black Press for more than 25 years, honing his craft in Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami and Washington, D.C. The consecutive, three-time Society of Professional Journalists – DC chapter winner/finalist for Commentary & Criticism under the banner “The World According to Dominic” and a fellow with both the Journalists in Aging and Maynard 200 for investigative reporting, says writing has been his greatest passion since his childhood. Based in the Greater Washington Area, the former senior editor of The Washington Informer recently turned his attention to full-time content writing and related opportunities. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org , email@example.com ,