Jonathan Mahone, a.k.a. Chaka Mandla Mhambi Mpeanaji, is best known as half of the husband/wife hip-hop duo Riders Against the Storm. He’s also a passionate community organizer, an accomplished artist and one of the sharpest dressed men on Austin stages. On Saturday, he explores the visual aspects of his creative work with the opening of a new art exhibit “People of Color” and a fashion show featuring threads from his new NefrFreshr clothing line that’s now available online.
The free party (RSVP here) kicks off at 8 p.m. in the swanky upstairs space at Antone’s. At 9 p.m. Mahone and his wife Ghislaine Mahone, a.k.a. Qi Dada Ras will screen the video for the latest Riders song “Mali,” which premiered on Afropunk Friday. The fashion show is scheduled for 9:15 p.m.
Mahone’s art is cast in vibrant hues that reflect indigenous cultures of Africa and the Americas. He’s inspired by the Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania. “When you look at their clothes… what they wear, it’s reds, it’s blues, it’s yellows, it’s purples, it’s greens,” he says.
“Or if you look at the Navajo, or the South African culture, Ndebele. They paint the outside of their houses and it’s these colors,” he says. “It just resonates with me. It’s just really strong. It makes me feel good when I see them.”
Stylistically, he embraces geometric simplicity. “My influences are cartoons. I used to read the Sunday paper every Sunday and just draw,” he says.
Calvin and Hobbes was a big influence as was Charlie Brown’s Peanuts crew. Those images brushed up against the graffiti he saw on the streets of his hometown, Pittsburgh, to inform his early aesthetic. When he got older he began studying indigenous cultures of the world, recognizing a quiet power in ancient hieroglyphics.
“It’s so simple….You just see a lot of straight flat images… it just has an effect on me,” he says. “Another influence is weird … people wouldn’t expect it, but Hello Kitty. Really, it’s just a circle and two triangles and a couple dots but there’s something about it….how simple can I get this, with a strong impact.”
Mahone will sell prints of the works at the opening on Saturday. The show runs through April 22-26 and April 28-May 12. It is the first in a series of “Art at Antone’s” shows featuring urban artists that Mahone plans to produce.
“God Bless Your Life” is a piece inspired by a line in the Nas song “The World is Yours.” “I feel like it’s kind of a beautiful thing to say to somebody, not God bless you, but God bless your life,” Mahone says. “It’s a hard piece to look at but the colors make it attractive. It’s like hip-hop, you’re talking about struggle, but it’s beautiful in the way it’s laid out and it makes you feel stronger.”
This piece is called “Grace, Work in Progress.” “That’s something I’m working on, grace. Just being thankful and walking with grace,” Mahone says. It’s also a tribute to Grace Jones. “When she came out, to be so out there and strong. I know that wasn’t an easy road for her but she just owned it, and that’s something that I’m trying to do, own my strengths and my power.”