If you see a guy with a round white mask on his head and black Xs for eyes at the Tampa Bay Rays game on Saturday, don’t be alarmed.
It’s Jabari Reed-Diop, an up-and-coming artist known as iBoms and the latest to be featured in the Tampa Bay Rays Artist Print series.
Each month, an artist’s design appears on a commemorative game poster that’s available for sale in the Rays Republic Team Store and throughout Tropicana Field. Team officials worked with Creative Pinellas to put together a panel of local arts and culture community members that selected local artists for the series.
At 19, Reed-Diop is the youngest of the artists chosen, and is relatively new in the Tampa Bay arts community. He will be in attendance at Saturday’s game with his family, and will be introduced. The mask he plans to wear is based on a character he paints called Dead Smiles.
Reed-Diop’s design for the series against the Los Angeles Angels was inspired by the movie The Sandlot. He took the two teams’ mascots and imagined them as mischievous neighborhood rivals. Raymond, the Rays’ mascot, wears a rainbow shirt that says “Pride,” because the poster came out on the team’s Pride night. The message is the unifying power of baseball.
Reed-Diop has a substantial body of work that he sells through his Instagram account, which is where St. Petersburg-based artist and gallery owner Chad Mize discovered him. Mize invited him to participate in his “Dreams Deferred” show back in February. Reed-Diop’s piece immediately sold, another was commissioned and Mize bought a piece, too.
“I like the cartoon aspect, and every piece has a detail and message and story to it,” Mize said. “It’s very current even though there are old elements.”
Mize encouraged Reed-Diop to enter calls for artists, which is how he found out about the opportunity with the Rays.
Reed-Diop was born in St. Petersburg and has lived in Childs Park most of his life. He has loved to create for as long as he can remember, which he said goes back to third grade.
He attended Gibbs High School’s Pinellas County Center for the Arts program as a freshman, then moved to Jacksonville, where he attended Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. The latter school is where he got serious about becoming an artist.
Back then, though, his style was unlike the cartoonish one he has now. His paintings were dark, delving into slavery. They were a way for him to express his anger about racism.
He left Douglas Anderson after 11th grade, and returned to St. Petersburg to graduate from Gibbs. Away from the teacher at Douglas Anderson who discouraged the cartoon style, Reed-Diop drew from his inspirations to create a unique style that is loaded with symbolism. He buys his frames from thrift shops, creating an interesting juxtaposition between elaborate frames and street vibes.
Reed-Diop, who is black, goes deep with the messages of his edgy paintings. He explores themes of duality and addiction. Inspired by black history, which his mother Priscilla taught him, he continues to explore racism and discrimination.
“It’s always been something that resonates with me,” he said. “I’m bringing things that people don’t think about, and putting it into an art piece so they are confronted by it, but with a different way of looking at it.”
Reed-Diop’s characters wear white gloves, a reference to minstrel shows and the stereotypes of black people drawn in cartoons from the Jim Crow era. They all have Xs instead of eyes. His character HDA (human discretion advised), an activist in iBoms’ world, wears a black paper bag on his face. Reed-Diop said it’s a reference to the brown paper bag test, said to be used by black organizations to exclude people whose skin was darker than the bag.
Reed-Diop paints a squad called the Bone Thugs. Characters include a broccoli-headed dude and a monkey with their bones exposed, a reference to the duality of life and death. Another member is Mr. Soda, a box of baking soda. He shows how an innocuous object can be used to make something illicit, referring to baking soda’s use in the manufacturing of crack cocaine.
Many characters are well dressed, with fancy sneakers and jewelry, but the message is about being enslaved by fashion.
Reed-Diop creates his work at home, when he’s not at his job as a press distribution staffer at the Tampa Bay Times plant. He continues to enter calls for artists, but he has plans to move to Washington in September with his brother, Ashant. Reed-Diop is excited to tap into the art scene in Seattle, which will be close by.
“I want to be signed to a gallery like a rapper is to a label,” he said.
IF YOU GO
The Tampa Bay Rays play the Los Angeles Angels at 1:10 p.m. Ticket prices vary. 1 Tropicana Drive, St. Petersburg. mlb.com/rays.
Want to see more of iBoms’ work? Follow @thisisiboms.
Contact Maggie Duffy at email@example.com or (727) 893-8572. Follow @maggiedalexis.