Artist, singer, and community activist Justen LeRoy is a man of many possibilities. In 2017, deeply inspired by the late, great painter Noah Davis, LeRoy launched SON. Studio. Operating within his father’s longstanding barbershop in South Central Los Angeles, SON. is a platform for the multi-faceted experiences of black men. What started as a one-off photography exhibition is now a series of programming, events, and information sharing. “I hope to make a dent in the way people who look like me can go about shifting the world around them,” he says. “(Noah’s) vision made me feel seen and trusted when no one else would put a key in my hand. I can’t wait to give that same experience to the young men who occupy SON.’s barbershop space.”
LeRoy has also been selected as an artist for the upcoming Made in LA Biennale 2020, which was delayed due to Covid-19 but is still set to take place over the summer. He will create a bi-weekly podcast for visitors to listen to as they move between the programme’s venues, including conversations recorded at the barbershop. Under the SON. moniker, LeRoy has also performed musically alongside London artist Klein at New York’s MoMA PS1. “I’m just a guy from South Central who wanted to make a change,” he muses, “and I want future generations to understand that they are all they need to plant the seed.”
How did you start doing the work you do, and what inspires it?
Justen LeRoy: For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to talk endlessly about the art and music I loved. As an only child, art and music filled in all of the gaps around me, becoming my main vehicle for communication. I had to get to the bone of how everything was created and became obsessed with seeking more on the various subjects (CD liner notes, writers, curators, etc). I finally had the chance to put that excitement to work when taking on gallery attendant positions at the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, Hauser, Wirth and Schimmel, and my university’s gallery in 2014. These positions really helped inform my understanding of who had access to art and who didn’t. Working in these spaces would actually be my first time visiting them.
How is your work unique to you, or informed by your perspective, experiences, or identity?
Justen LeRoy: My work derives from my own personal needs. I ask myself, ‘What kind of world do I want to live in?’, ‘What kind of conversations do I wish I were a part of?’, ‘What do I want to hear?’ I’m looking to uplift myself. When creating SON., I was personally seeking a space where I could be vulnerable and collaborative with men that looked like me. (Spaces for black men) have been difficult for me to navigate, but I knew I couldn’t be the only one. The challenge to perform as hyper-masculine and without any emotional intuition had presented itself to me at five years old and I’ve never felt aligned with its demands. Even when trying, I knew I couldn’t survive. In my development, I began to see how the expectation of this performance exhausted the men around me, as well as their relationships and worldview. I felt called to research, open my world, and work to bring some ease to this paradigm.
“My work derives from my own personal needs. I ask myself, ‘What kind of world do I want to live in?’” – Justen LeRoy
What creative or philanthropic project would you work on with a grant from the Dazed 100 Ideas Fund?
Justen LeRoy: This past year I’ve been supporting the development of SON.’s South Central-based barbershop/programming space on my own. If chosen to receive a grant, I would use it to facilitate the rest of the space’s construction needs and programming development. Planned programming includes a monthly discussion series, a book club, a running club, and photography residency. I would also love to utilise a portion to bring on an intern from our community.