I recently asked my client, Mr. Moda, what his greatest challenge was being an artist today. His answer startled me. “People look at me and all they can see is an African American man who looks like trouble.” The reason I was so surprised by his answer was because that thought crossed my mind the first time I met him.
Eliot and I were meeting our friends, Ruth and Howard, for dinner at this fantastic Italian restaurant in downtown Miami, Soya e Pomodoro, when Eliot and I pulled up behind a truck with its back opened for moving goods. The street was dead quiet because most businesses were closed for the day.
Inside the truck was a very odd looking Black young guy who was talking very loudly on his cell while waving his hands in the air. There were two other guys, one White, standing outside the truck with items that were tightly wrapped for transporting. I didn’t know what was going on but it looked like a heist to me.
I turned around to Eliot from the passenger seat to tell him not to get out of the car. By the time the words were ready to come out of my mouth, Eliot was out of the car checking to see if he parked close enough to the curb. I thought to myself, “Good luck to us. Who the hell knows what’s really going on here.” I exited the car only to hear the young man in the truck tell Eliot that the car was positioned well. I went to the front of our Jeep to get a closer look at what was being carried out of the adjacent building. It turned out to be art work. Mr. Moda was bringing a painting to Music Artist “Lil Baby” when he headlined the iTHINK Amphitheater in West Palm Beach. I still thought it was strange that they were doing this in the dark.
We all introduced ourselves to each other, and when Mr. Moda heard I was a publicist he wanted to show us his work. Eliot and I loved all of his pieces because they were so complex, so graphic and so daring. I immediately told him I would help him get some publicity for his art, some of which he said sells for six figures. I was amazed. Not many artists achieve that kind of success. He explained that many people who are making big money like to own his art because they think it makes them look cool. However, that doesn’t make himself feel better about himself. “I don’t want people to see Black when they see me. I want them to see inside my head. I have a lot to say.”
I promised I would become his self appointed Jewish mother that would help him cross racial barriers. Meanwhile, Eliot pointed out later that I was one of those people who jump to conclusions without knowing the facts. “That is what Mr. Moda complains about.” To my defense, I would have been nervous about getting out of our Jeep if they were all White young men. The older I get, the more vulnerable I feel in all kinds of situations.
Mr. Moda loved the idea of working together. I was thrilled too because I would get the chance to promote his talents, his thoughts, and his endless energy that could possibly be applauded by very wide audiences.
Mr. Moda, who grew up in Jamaica, Queens, not far from where I lived as a child, wants to devote his life to expressing his feelings on canvas, clothing, sculptures, jewelry and footwear. It’s not uncommon to find weed, pills, blood, blades, masks, and even a gun incorporated into his work. He is all about making the world see and understand what Black men have to deal with all the time.
Mr. Moda’s recent sales prove that an increasing number of people really appreciate his work. Several well known real estate developers spent over six figures for his paintings in the last year or two. They particularly zeroed in on his work because they felt he would help them attract a young crowd in the offices and residential complexes they were building.
One of his collectors said “No one walks by anything that Mr. Moda creates. You are forced to stop and stare at the art because every piece has a serious story that we all have to confront today. The more we all face the realities of a young person’s life in these times, the more we will appreciate each other.”