A Portrait of Painter Nagrom Morgan Monceaux

Reprinted by agreement with Tyesha Best and Leatherati

A Part of the Black N Leather Series: Artists, Authors and Activists By Tyesha Best, Leatherati Contributing Editor

Foreword: There are many persons of color that have given much of their artistic souls to help enrich, educate and make aware of what it is like to be a minority within a minority in the Leather Community. With each stroke of a brush, inked word and cause promoted these POC bring us all a few steps closer to understanding and acceptance. The Arts is just one of many things that helps define a culture. The known and unsung heroes and heroines within the Black Leather Community will never be forgotten and each story that is shared enlightens us about the fact that there can inspire diversity in the midst of adversity. We can either use all these brush strokes, pen markings and protest signs to build up and take positive steps forward or to break down in negativity and run back repeating the past.

He is renowned for his portrait paintings of famous individuals in the American Culture. Nagrom Morgan Monceaux is the only modern self-taught artist to have pieces in permanent residence at the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.  Though he is showing galleries with portraits including Jim Crow, BB King, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Sarah Vaughn, Nagrom has recently shown galleries that come straight from his Leather roots. Nagrom has been through a lot in his life. He is HIV positive, deals with PTSD from the wars, survived the death of his mother, wrestles with depression as well as beating cancer into remission. A recent near death experience on an operating table has caused him to have a completely new outlook on life, a rebirth of sorts. Born in Alexandria Louisiana, Nagrom, a Vietnam Navy Veteran, has traveled the United States extensively before finally settling in New York. Also, like many military war veterans, Nagrom was homeless for a time he was sleeping an abandoned building in South Bronx. It was the roof of that building that he found paints and so in 1990, his passion began as he used them to heal and pass the time. For a time, Nagrom worked extensively painting musicians of the early jazz era, naming one of his series: “Jazz: My Music, My People”. Nagrom’s artistic family inspired his painting career with musicians such as Louie Armstrong and Mahalia Jackson being his Uncle and Aunt. But in the end it was his mother who truly gave life to his passion.

“She was my light and she helped me to see the world in a new way. She was a singer and told me to let people hear my music from my soul. It was because of my service that some of this came about. A major part it all started there. My mom, Nina, Billie, Miles-they created beauty pain and it comes out when you hear them.”

He’s a 67 yr old Gay Black Leatherman and he’s painting his journey along the way, he doesn’t just paint for the mainstream world. His inspiration for his pieces depicting the Leather culture has come from a variety of places, from simple everyday stories to life changing conversations and events. Nagrom uses paints as well as found objects to create bold works of art that depicts people within our society. Entitled “Pages from a Black Leatherman’s Journal”, Nagrom has created a series that was partially unveiled at the Philadelphia Pride Night Weekend that took place from Nov 8th -12th of 2012. He’s not done with adding to that collection either. It’s a project he started way back in 2001 he says and he’s still adding pages to it to this day. Though most may know him from his brilliant works of art showcasing all over the country, still many don’t know of his 40 or so years he has accumulated being apart of the Leather culture. A previous member of Onyx as well as the Panthers while living in NYC, he also tried starting a group for Leathermen of Color called Maji while living in Baltimore but it did not last very long. Maji, although short lived, did have an impact on the Leather Community at large at the time.

“It allowed the community here know that there were men of color who are in the life and that we were not going to not be overlooked,” Morgan remembers, “We have a voice and were speaking out and that we were not Mandingos for the white boys which seem to be what was going on.”

What exactly is a Mandingo to Nagrom?

“One must never forget; this is the South first and foremost. A Mandingo is a black man used for the sexual pleasure of others. He is used and not treated as a man and by others I mean whites. We live below the Mason-Dixie line and here as in the deep south, that type of shit is on the reg.”

It wasn’t just about that either, with forming Maji, Nagrom was also looking for kindred souls in other Leathermen of color as well.

 “We were trying to bring men of color in the Baltimore community together and teach them about the life and how to play. We brought in several men of color to do the demos and had several chats on the life from an old guard way of living.” “Real Old Guard,” Nagrom continues, “Its my life. I live it 24/7, 365 days, from the playroom to the boardroom” He says of his Leather background and his art. ”My life as a black man in this lifestyle…boardroom to playroom…the paintings are from my journals…they are my journal…objects from my life, people, places and things that are a part of my photos ect…my past present & future.”

When asked, Sir Nagrom does not play favorites when it comes to naming standouts that he has loved the most.

 “All of them, there is no just one but love never dies; I love a lot.”

Nagrom hopes that many people see his work. He believes that there is more to Leather and life than just play, that the Leather community should also look for and support their artists. He proved his point by giving up his private art collection for auction at American Brotherhood Weekend (ABW) in 2002.  To this date, he has raised the most money as an ABW contestant at $13,000. With each stroke of his paintbrush and every placement of an object that Nagrom puts on his works, he heals and educates himself and others. Today, Nagrom has a BA in music/voice, a MFA in Theology, a MFA in Museum Management and a PHD in African American Art. He also has two children’s books to his credit as well. While continuing his works depicting the Leather scene and its Leatherpeople, Morgan has begun a new series, painting Black baseball players from the 1800s to the end of the Negro League.

Also another big thing in his life is love. Proudly, Morgan speaks about the love of his life, Octavia D. Njuhigu. Everyone who listens can tell how proud he is to be in love and that he speaks deeply from the soul about happy he is. What’s more, there may be wedding bells by mid next year too!

“Painting is the silence of thought and the music of sight.” ― Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red

Author’s Note: If there is someone you know or you yourself are a POC and would like to take part in the Black N Leather Series, Tyesha Best can be reached at Tyesha@leatherati.com.