The myth of Atlantis, first described in Plato’s dialogues, sparked the imaginations of countless generations and remains alive today, with speculation ongoing about the fabled lost city and whether it ever existed. Plato’s timeless story of the sunken civilization now weaves its way through a new collection of artwork by the Atlanta artist and photographer El Lewis. His solo exhibition, “Voyage to ATLantis: A Future Imagined Black,“ is on view at the MINT Gallery now through Nov. 5. Lewis joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes to talk about the connections between his work, his love for ancient myths, and his visions for Atlanta.
The conversation began with Lewis’ own origin stories, which led to his relatively recent redirection in visual art. “My background is in the fashion business, so I spent a lot of my time in New York and overseas,” said Lewis. “Coming back to Atlanta pre-pandemic … I was able to see the city in a new way, and so I started to make parallels between the myths that I was reading by Plato, as well as being back in Atlanta and rediscovering this beautiful city.”
In Lewis’ artist statement, he accuses himself of becoming “too serious” during his New York years and says that he found fresh inspiration in Atlanta. The artist spoke to a personal affinity for Greek mythology, having dived into the works of Plato and other ancient Greek thinkers while spending the pandemic in his home city. “I am from Atlanta, and so I consider myself an ‘Atlantian…’ A lot of the work that I’ve been doing is basically showing correlations between myths and today’s time,” said Lewis.
Perhaps thinking of Atlantis in its glory, Lewis’ work nods to the city of Atlanta’s present-day vibrancy, its rising tech and film industries, and new opportunities for Black artists and entrepreneurs. “Sometimes we gaze upon the cliché things, like the CNN center or Coca-Cola,” said Lewis. “We don’t necessarily take in the great architecture that John Portman designed for Downtown. Or we don’t necessarily look at Atlanta as a design destination, and I wanted to basically put that back into people’s forefront, and let them realize that if you are able to imagine, and look at the smaller things, you too have a huge imagination to create and build here.”
The new collection of Lewis’ photographic works plays on the visual theme of black and white; his photos are in black and white, as are even the plants decorating the gallery. He described the theme of the exhibition as one centering and celebrating the Black imagination. “When I think about my ancestors being voyaged across the Atlantic, I think about the conditions they were in, and their mindsets that they were thinking about for a tomorrow,” said Lewis. “To me, it’s unfathomable how you can be… in conditions like that, and slavery, and still imagine a future for yourself in lands that you know nothing about.”
Lewis went on, “While creating this work, I really think it’s a privilege and a superpower to tap into this imagination that Black bodies, that we all have … When you think about historically, we’ve never been able to fully live without the control of a bigger power. So this is me, kind of reclaiming that, and reimagining and reshaping the world that I want to live in.”
El Lewis presents “Voyage to ATLantis: A Future Imagined Black” at MINT Gallery, on view through Nov. 5. More information is available at http://mintatl.org.