Famed Artist Nijel Binns Celebrates the Black Experience Through Art
GENERATIONEXT - For more than 30 years Nijel Binns has been a creator. The stories that he was woven with bronze, block, wood and stone have paid homage to, among others, the scholars, musicians, politicians, kings and mothers who make up the story of the Africa Diaspora.
Binns most well-known public monument is the “Mother of Humanity,” a 16 ft., two ton bronze monument that pays tribute to peace, a mother’s loving-kindness, and the singularity of the human family. Unveiled on Mother’s Day, on May 11, 1996, it is permanently installed at the Watts Labor Community Action Committee. Binns envisions five identical copies in Australia, Brazil, China, India, Spain and Africa, as places of healing.
“Every piece is a true discovery for me, as it is for the viewer,” said Binns. “The work of art that is most relevant for the time that we are living in is the “Mother of Humanity®” monument. The implications of what this monument holds for humanity is far reaching, and it appears that it will have an impact on future generations for a very, very long time to come.”
However, despite the popularity of his sculptors, and the iconic status it has bestowed upon him, Binns doesn’t necessarily define himself as “an artist.” A man of many talents, Binns has drawn on his various careers to tell stories that seem to penetrate into one’s very soul.
“I say that I am an artist for simplification purposes… (but) that is just one part of me,” said Binns. “I am a practicing martial artist since 1968 (so) some people know me only as Nijel, the martial artist… I have authored a few books, so some people only know me as an author. So (to) make it easy you can define me by my name, Nijel, which is a title (that) means “Black Prince of God,” said Binns.
Blackness is celebrated throughout Binns’ work whose draws on his own life experiences in his works.
Born in Battersea, England in 1956 to African and Jamaican parents, Binns migrated to the United States citizen in the 1960’s, where he was introduced to painting and sculpture at St. Benedict’s Preparatory and Seton Hall High schools in New Jersey. While Binns was a self-taught artist and writer, throughout the years, he received professional mentorship under iconic African American master sculptors Felix De Weldon and sculptor Ed Dwight. Currently, Nijel heads the Los. Angeles based sculpting firm Nijart International, LLC.
Binns rose to prominence as a portrait sculptor in 1990 when he was commissioned to sculpt pop icon, Michael Jackson, for the “Top Selling Artist of the Decade” tribute. He recently unveiled a monument to the Honorable Mervyn M. Dymally in his home town of Cedros, Trinidad and his forthcoming state side commissions include a bronze memorial to fallen officers for the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, and a massive Mexican American All Wars Memorial in East Los Angeles. He has also been praised for his piece on Tupac Shakur.
Additional portrait sculptures include a wax portrait sculpture of the late astronaut Colonel Ron McNair for the Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, MD, as well as the only life-sized bronzed sculpture of the famous child actress Shirley Temple for Fox Studios. There is also a life-sized bronze busts of Los Angeles’ retired Urban League President John W. Mack for the Los Angeles Urban League Headquarters, and a life sized bronze bust of Councilman retired Nate Holden for the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles.
Binns’s large bas reliefs are found at the John W. Mack Elementary School, and at the Charmette Bonpua Skate Park in Los Angeles. On a smaller scale, Binns has produced yearly awards for the Los Angeles Urban League, the Lula Washington’s Dance Company, The Pan African Film Festival, In The Meantime Men’s Group in Los Angeles, and The American Society for Cell Biology.
As an iconic figure in the African American art community, Binns does feel a certain responsibility to share what he has learned with the community that has embraced his work.
“You have to understand that I did not go to a school or university to learn what I have done,” said Binns. “I simply embarked on a quest to discover the truth in what I was doing and I found it impossible to settle for a lie. So, I feel that I have a responsibility to be clear about what I do and share my work, my knowledge and understanding.”
Binns has created many unforgettable pieces but he doesn’t necessarily see his as a testament to his talents but a tribute to what is possible when you put your mind to it.
“As an artist, among other things, I can create, destroy and recreate myself to last for a thousand years if I wanted to. But is that what it all boils down to?? It’s really not about me, is it? If you want to remember me for anything, remember this simple advice I give you, ‘Whatever you do in life should be as easy as breathing’,” said Binns.
And, while Binns is proud of his body of work, he also has a hunger to find new ways to express himself.
“I am always grateful when I find that my work is appreciated, but I myself am never completely satisfied that I have done my best. I always find that I could be clearer in what I see and I am always looking for ways to express that,” said Binns.
“I have a great interest in portrait sculpting. I am drawn to this form of sculpting because it allows me to discover, in 3D, the clearest, most accurate understanding of a human being that is possible,” said Binns. “I can take a great portrait photo, or make an oil painting. However, when I sculpt and have to become conscious of the inner psyche, every angle, form and shape of a human being. That for me, becomes a great exercise in seeing what is. I reached this level of understanding by studying the life and work of Muhammad Ali, Bruce Lee and Michael Jackson.”