By: Gabe Costello ~Staff Columnist~
Chair of Xavier’s Art Department, Kelly Phelps, and his twin brother Kyle Phelps recently made headlines as they were selected to do commission work for Xavier’s fellow Jesuit institution, Saint Louis University (SLU). The piece commemorates protests that occurred on SLU’s campus in response to the shooting death of Michael Brown.
People across the nation have been in a state of unrest following the events that took place on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo.
Students and community organizers participated in demonstrations on SLU’s campus, which sits less than nine miles from Ferguson. Between Oct. 13 and 18, hundreds protested near the campus’ clocktower in “Occupy SLU.”
The Phelps’ sculpture aims to capture the spirit of the movement.
To Kelly Phelps, the protest was not just about Mike Brown, Darren Wilson or even necessarily race in America.
“It had nothing to do with that exact moment,” Kelly Phelps said. “(It’s about) freedom of speech (and) taking action, not one side versus the other.”
Now that he and his brother have achieved artistic success, they are addressing the same issues that they encountered growing up in a working class family. To them, community — and not race — is the overriding force.
Phelps began teaching at Xavier in 2003 and teaches a variety of art courses, including drawing and the art department’s senior seminar.
Both he and Kyle studied art as undergraduate students and eventually went on to the same grad school. They have been lifelong collaborators. Kyle Phelps teaches at the University of Dayton, and the two have a studio in Dayton, Ohio.
In addition to the piece for SLU and their teaching careers, the brothers have also worked on several notable commissions in recent years, including more than 75 commission. Some of their works appear in the NAACP National Headquarters and in the private collections of actor Morgan Freeman, director Michael Moore and musician Bootsy Collins.
Phelps was hopeful that upon completion he will present the sculpture in some way at Xavier.
Xavier students, organized by groups like the Black Student Assocation, staged a silent protest before a men’s basketball game in December after Officer Wilson was not indicted in the shooting death of Michael Brown.