Kevin the Kiteman by Jordan Casteel

Meligha Garfield on Kevin the Kiteman by Jordan Casteel

An illustrative painting of a black man in from of a municipal building he straddles a  bike, a kite with the a female anime character resembling an orange mermaid obscures the handle bars,  he holds two bird kites up behind his head
Jordan Casteel, Kevin the Kiteman, 2016, oil on canvas. The Studio Museum in Harlem; Museum purchase with funds provided by the Acquisition Committee, 2016.37. © Jordan Casteel. Courtesy American Federation of Arts. Photo: Adam Reich.

Hi, I’m Meligha Garfield and I’m the director of the Black Cultural Center at University of Utah.


This artwork makes me think about my home state of New York and my hometown of Rochester, New York, in particular. Its nickname is “the Roc,” a name that was given to the city for its roughness but also because it has withstood the time of harsh seasons of weather, race relations, women’s suffrage, and cultural swifts. When growing up in Rochester, I often felt the city was consistently in between seasons. We were always on the verge of something great, but not quite there. We wanted the big city feel of New York City, but did not want its population density or taxes. We wanted to be a cultural hub, but disenfranchised those who brought it.  The man in this piece signals that, with his winter clothes and kites that are often associated with the spring season. In a way, he’s a walking contradiction.


I would also say the man in this artwork represents a piece of me: someone who grew up poor in the inner city of grey skies and organized crisis. He represents my drive for more and constantly thinking about my next season rather than the seasons before. It also reminds me of wearing clothes in the wrong season: because of growing up poor, I often had to buy clothes out of season. His kites symbolize to me the various hats I had to wear to transcend beyond my hometown. The amount of code switching and learning about myself. Always wanting to know how do I define myself, and how do others define me?


This work of art is also interesting because of the name Adam Clayton Powell Jr., which is engraved in the backdrop behind the man holding the kites. For those that do not know, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was the first African American to be elected from New York to Congress. An amazing feat, but based upon the missing letters in his name, this symbolizes what’s often the neglect and disregard for preserving Black history and culture in this country. In the end, this work of art is quite complex but to the right person and experience—in this particular instance, my experience.

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Hola, soy Meligha Garfield y soy el director del Centro Cultural Negro de la Universidad de Utah.  


Esta obra me hace pensar en mi estado natal, Nueva York y en mi ciudad natal de Rochester, Nueva York, en particular. Su apodo es “Roc”, un nombre que la ciudad recibió por su rudeza pero también porque se ha mantenido incólume durante tiempos marcados por temporadas de clima inclemente, las relaciones raciales, el sufragio femenino y los cambios culturales. Cuando era niño en Rochester, a menudo sentía que la ciudad estaba constantemente entre una estación del año y otra. Siempre estábamos al borde de algo fantástico, pero nunca llegábamos allí del todo. Queríamos la sensación de la gran ciudad de Nueva York, pero no queríamos su densidad de población, ni sus impuestos. Queríamos ser un centro cultural, pero privamos de derechos a los que lo introdujeron.  El hombre de esta obra señala eso, con su ropa de invierno y sus cometas, a menudo asociados con la primavera. En cierto modo, es una contradicción andante.  


También diría que el hombre de esta obra representa una parte de mí mismo: alguien que creció pobre en el ghetto de cielos grises y crisis organizada. Él representa mi afán por conseguir más y pensar constantemente en mi próxima estación en lugar de en las estaciones pasadas. También me recuerda cuando usaba ropa de la estación equivocada: al crecer en la pobreza, a menudo tenía que comprar ropa de otra temporada. Sus cometas simbolizan para mí los diversos sombreros que tuve que usar para trascender más allá de mi ciudad natal. La alternancia de códigos y el aprendizaje sobre mí mismo. Queriendo saber siempre, ¿cómo me defino a mí mismo, y cómo me definen los demás?  


Esta obra también es interesante por el nombre de Adam Clayton Powell Jr., que está grabado en el fondo detrás del hombre que sostiene las cometas. Para quienes no lo saben, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. fue el primer afroamericano en ser electo en Nueva York para el Congreso. Una hazaña increíble, pero cuando observamos las letras que faltan en su nombre, esto simboliza lo que a menudo es el descuido y la falta de respeto por lo que es la preservación de la historia y la cultura negra en este país. En definitiva, esta obra de arte es bastante compleja, pero para la persona y la experiencia correctas: en este caso en particular, mi experiencia. 

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Portrait of Meligha Garfield from the chest up smiling wide, he wears a blue suit with a blue checked tie

Meligha (Ma-lie-jah) Garfield, M.P.A

Director, University of Utah's Black Cultural Center


Meligha Garfield (he/him) is the inaugural director for the Black Cultural Center (BCC) at the University of Utah. The BCC is a center that works to holistically enrich, educate, and advocate for students, faculty, staff, and the broader community through Black-centered programming, culturally affirming educational initiatives, and retention strategies. Hailing from Rochester, New York, Garfield holds a B.A. in Government, with a minor in colonial Latin American history and Africana studies and a Master of Public Administration from New Mexico State University (NMSU), where he was previously the programs coordinator for the Black Programs Department. He has implemented outreach and retention services, served as coordinator and advisor in Black programs, and managed numerous departmental programming and events while at NMSU—many of which he hopes to start at the U. He is also a proud member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Incorporated.

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