Purple Reigns On

The Weisman Art Museum’s Prince Exhibit

Illustrator: Will Hanson

It seems that Prince’s spirit is as alive as the artwork depicted in Weisman Art Museum’s newest exhibit. The trademark display, filled with treasures of all kinds, tells the tale of an artist who was just as political as he was poetic, popular as he was powerful, and passionate as he was prolific.

Hailing from the city of Minneapolis, Prince Rodgers Nelson is arguably the most famous musician to emerge from Minnesota. The artist, who passed away in April of 2016, was not only an amazing singer and songwriter, but a composer, producer, and performer as well. The exhibit at Weisman museum contains evidence of this by depicting Prince in a number of roles and settings.

One of the first things that viewers will see upon walking into the exhibition is a collage created by Turkish painter Burhan C. Dogancay. The piece, titled, “Grego morphing into Prince,” brings street art and sophistication together, as Dogancay blends pictures, stickers, fliers and paint together to create a whirlwind of messages. “Ghetto Revival” and “Impeach Bush for War Crimes” are just a few of the radical slogans.

Prince broke a great deal of barriers throughout his musical career—the first of these being racial. Although segregation legally ended in 1964, Prince had to work far harder than his white counterparts to make it to the mainstream music scene as an African American. After all, many TV and radio stations were hesitant to play music from a black artist for fear of alienating white America.

Prince, however, never believed that his music was limited to a particular race. In fact, to him, music was seemingly boundless and unequivocally universal—something that artist Troy Gua highlights in a collection of photographs, showcasing sculptures that he created in honor of the star. In these sculptures, titled “Le Petit Prince,” an animated rendition of Prince plays a variety of instruments, such as piano and guitar, and portrays him singing and dancing.

As an artist, he was daring, creative, and fresh.

Many of these images depict Prince in his exquisite outfits, immaculate hair styles, and glamorous makeup—all of which created a powerful on-stage persona that made some question his gender and his sexuality, yet another barrier that he broke. In fact, Prince has always openly supported gender and sexuality equality. In his 1984 song, “I Would Die 4 U,” he sings: “I’m not your lover/ I’m not your friend/ I’m your messiah and you’re the reason why/ I’m not a human/ I am a dove/ I’m your conscience/ I am love.”

In these lyrics, Prince suggests that he is something beyond a man, a woman, or even a human—a concept that Rock Martinez, a well-known muralist, expanded on in his own piece, also titled “I Would Die For U.”

This piece depicts Prince wearing one of his ornate outfits and playing one of his custom guitars. The artist’s notorious “love symbol”—which incorporates elements of both male and female astrological signs—sits behind him like that of an aura, while psychedelic colors and patterns surround him like the music itself.

While Prince’s music shattered barriers of race, sexuality, and gender conformity, it also broke barriers of religion. By stating that he is “your Messiah” in the above song, for example, Prince shatters the pervasive notion that God is white. Instead, he suggests that God could be of another race—a possibility that many never consider.

Prince broke a great deal of barriers throughout his musical career.

This idea can also be seen in Lillian Colton’s portrait, titled “Prince.” Here, the star is depicted up close and personal, wearing a white cloak, eerily similar to that of Christ, along with facial hair—a style that he seldom rocked, further suggesting that this portrait recognizes him as a savior of sorts.

Collectively, Prince’s legacy is one of many things. As a man, he was brilliant, progressive, and unique. As an artist, he was daring, creative, and fresh. And as an activist, he was able to project people’s prejudices back onto themselves.

With 40 albums, 7 Grammys, and numerous monuments, memorials and exhibits, including the one at Weisman Art Museum, Prince’s spirit and the music that he left us reign on.