Pittsburgh lost a major voice in the arts community when Natiq Jalil suddenly passed away late last year. Now, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, along with The Colored Section Black Artists’ Collective, will dedicate this month’s Downtown Gallery Crawl to his work and legacy.
On Fri., Jan. 27, the Crawl, which takes place regularly in the Downtown Cultural District, will include a special exhibit and Celebration for Natiq presented by the Collective. Taking place in the Trust Arts Education Center, the event will feature work by several local artists, spoken word, a video by Pittsburgh filmmaker Chris Ivey, and music by local DJ SMI. There will also be an altar space designed after Natiq’s studio.
“We are extremely honored to celebrate the life and work of esteemed Pittsburgh artist, Natiq Jalil. Natiq made a lasting impact on the Trust and the Pittsburgh arts community,” says Terri Bell, vice president of the Trust’s Strategic Partnerships and Community Engagement, in a press release.
Bell adds that the Trust wanted to create a space where the Collective, which Natiq founded with his wife, Crystal Noel, and artist/curator Zeal Eva, “could celebrate him.”
“We are so grateful to be working with the Collective to bring his works to the Forefront for those who may not have had the great pleasure of experiencing his art,” says Bell.
Isaiah Spencer became the executive director of the Collective after the death of Natiq on Nov. 26, 2022. Spencer, a spoken word artist and Ph.D. candidate in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, says he first met Jalil around 2016 at The Corner, a community center located on Robinson Street in Oakland. Their bond grew tighter, he says, when they worked on procuring a grant to bring more arts events to The Corner.
“We worked together closely on that grant,” Spencer tells the Pittsburgh City Paper. “And then from there, it kind of just blossomed and expanded.”
Spencer joined with Natiq and Crystal when they founded the Collective, an initiative to train and promote Black artists in Pittsburgh. Spencer says the idea for the Collective came from the late George Gist, a portrait artist, muralist, and jazz musician who served as a mentor to Natiq.
The Collective launched its first show in 2021 with An
Spencer points out how the Collective demonstrated what a warm, supportive role Natiq played for a lot of local artists.
“We called Natiq, in the Collective, our ‘art dad,'” says Spencer, “because that’s really what he was. He was an Advocate for us, but he also served as a father figure for a lot of us in several ways .”
Beyond the Collective, Natiq has been a highly visible artistic presence in Pittsburgh. Born in Alabama, Natiq moved around all over the country, from Colorado to New York, before settling in Pittsburgh in 2006. A self-taught artist, he first entered the local scene in 2013 with his show Unfinished Business at the now-closed Garfield Artworks.
He gained a reputation as a watercolor painter and muralist, appearing in a large number of galleries and venues, from Mr. Smalls in Millvale to the Frick Fine Arts Building at Pitt.
Despite his accomplishments, Spencer says Natiq was never the type of person to have an ego.
“He had this larger-than-life presence, but you would never know it unless you really sat down and started to pick his brain,” he says. “He came across as a generational talent, who was confident in his skills, but he wasn’t arrogant. So he knew he was a strong artist, he knew he was a powerful artist, he knew he could evoke the emotions and do what I consider to be the job of artists. But he never went around touting it or throwing it in your face.”
More recently, Natiq worked with the Pittsburgh-based language-learning app company Duolingo to co-produce “The Legacy of Butterflies,” a mural project in East Liberty. In 2020, he even contributed a portrait of the late playwright August Wilson for City Paper‘s Yinzerrific Coloring Book.
Kendra Ross, who, as head of social impact at Duolingo, worked with Natiq and his collaborator, Alison Zapata. on the creation of the mural, tells CP“Natiq was an amazing artist and an even better human being. We are honored to have worked with him on ‘The Legacy of Butterflies’ mural in East Liberty. His Greatness will live on through his art and the lives he Touched in our community and beyond.”
In an interview about the Wilson portrait, Natiq told CP that it was “vitally important” to capture Black faces in his work.
“I strive to capture every emotion that I can, from the wildest joy to the deepest pain,” he continued. “I try to tell the stories that I see happening around me on a daily basis. I try to have a conversation with my viewers through my colors, lines, and poetry. Art controls the narrative, whether it is visual arts, music, or written arts like Poetry or journalism, history is immortalized in art.”
He expressed his desire for Black people to “always be Remembered and thought of as human,” adding, “Too much of our history has been told in a dehumanizing way, so my mission is to counter that narrative. I want to Capture all of the beauty, all of the ugliness, and all of the in-between parts, because we are all of that. This will be my contribution to history and the proof of my own humanity.”
To that end, the Crawl will find Natiq’s work in good company. The event, which spreads out over 15 Downtown venues, will showcase a number of local Black DJs, as well as graffiti artists, for the Trust’s tribute to Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Hip-Hop. The Black experience will also appear in the #notwhite collective 2016-2022 exhibition at SPACE Gallery, and Emmai Alaquiva’s heartbreaking, but Healing show OPTICVOICES: Mama’s Boys at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center.
Spencer says that, in the future, the Collective would like to present more events in Honor of Natiq.
“He was a giant,” says Spencer. “He gave us everything we needed, and so, we take some Solace in that. … He did a Fantastic job and we’re looking forward to being able to Honor him in the best way.”
The Colored Section Black Artists’ Collective: Celebrating The Art of Natiq Jalil with Music by DJ SMI. 5:30 pm-12 am Fri., Jan. 27. Trust Arts Education Centre. 805-807 Liberty Ave., Downtown. Free. crawl.trustarts.org