This post is the second in a series focusing on publicly accessible outsider art installations in San Antonio, Texas. The first post in this series covered the work of bird house maker Samuel Mirelez. All photos by Justin Parr.
Although San Antonio is considered a well-integrated city, the black population is still for the most part confined to the east side of town. Hackberry Street is one of the main thoroughfares running through the east side near downtown. It is on the corner of Hackberry and Nevada that Rev. Seymour Perkins wages a battle against drugs and violence with art, mythology, and religion. At his home on Hackberry, Rev. Perkins runs Hanging Tough Ministries, Perkins Art School, and The Debbie Jo Christi Museum Project. His ministries began after Perkins’ daughter was killed in drug-related violence. He then started preaching and working in the neighborhood to curtail drug use. In 1999, his church was burned to the ground. Even after this tragedy, Perkins continued to preach from the cement slab on which the church once stood:
Much of Rev. Perkins’ art celebrates boundary-breaking African-Americans, such as the first black cowboy, Nat Love, the first black college president, Martin Freeman, Sammy Davis, Jr, and Martin Luther King, Jr (you can find some of these portraits at San Angel Folk Art). At other times Perkins uses the art itself to break down barriers, by painting the Statue of Liberty as a black woman, John F. Kennedy, Jr. as a black man, or by painting traditionally white, aristocratic hairpieces on various black figures. By interweaving American mythology with his own visions, Perkins becomes a sort of poetic revisionist, fighting truth with faith. He works as a quixotic figure, trying to break down long-entrenched boundaries and nullify the fear, hatred, and desperation that they have created within his community.
Recently, Rev. Perkins was arrested by San Antonio Police officers after a search turned up drugs in his home. Some claim the drugs were planted there, while others speculate that a member of Perkins’ “congregation”, many of whom use drugs themselves, may have left the substance in his home inadvertently. The artist is out of jail, but his legal fate is uncertain.