One Song, One Painting, One Person at a time – Project Tupac will change the way you view art!
In 2011 Linda Antognini was living in Philadelphia in the process of moving to Seattle. A few days before putting the house on the market her house caught fire. Luckily for Linda, the community showed love and helped to clear up the aftermath. Those who had helped would encourage Linda to listen to Tupac’s music. With the thought of the music getting her through the difficult time. Help with the pain that she was going through.
Linda being a rock and roll fan, started to listen to Tupac’s music. One song at a time. Which would eventually change Linda’s perspective on hip-hop.
Feeling connected to Tupac’s lyrics, Linda delved into ‘Pac’s music and gaining knowledge on the legendary rapper. The same issues that Tupac was talking about in his lyrics in the early 1990s, were still going on twenty plus years later.
Recognizing that Tupac’s music and the message were different to anything else that she had heard, Linda began to piece together images from ‘Pac’s lyrics.
Linda paints her interpretation of Tupac’s lyrical messages on canvas and has an entire body of work titled ‘Project Tupac’ that represents ‘Pac’s message through her artwork.
O4L Online speaks to Linda for an in-depth look at how listening to Tupac changed her life. How it inspired a project that Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur and Naomi King, Martin Luther King’s Sister-in-Law admired and endorsed.
O4L Online: Linda can we start by saying that your Tupac art reflects exactly what our ‘Tupac Art Inspiration’ series is about. Your paintings have such deep meaning, just like Tupac’s lyrics.
It’s our understanding that you first got to hear ‘Pac’s music through a tragic fire that struck your house in 2011. Can you tell us what you were going through at the time and what was your first thoughts of Tupac’s music?
Over the beautiful blue skies of Philadelphia on a cool October morning, a fire broke out in our kitchen, within minutes the kitchen was immersed quickly in black smoke, at that moment in time, I had literally had a few minutes to react.
Once outside, our daughter and our pets were safe and away from danger. At that very moment, my life as I knew froze in time, as I looked up and down the street lined with firetrucks and the volunteer firefighters, who just happened to be at an early meeting, gathered together at the nearby firehouse.
Linda Suffered So Much Pain
We lived in an area that is only serviced with volunteer firefighters, having their
meeting so close by, saved our house from burning down. Unfortunately, much of the contents and the interior of the house took a serious hit, displacing us for a couple of months.
It was at that moment when an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and comfort surrounded me. Never experienced anything like this before, what mattered most was right by my side, not the contents inside. Through the darkness and mess that lies in front of me, you find the strength to roll up your sleeves and move forward to another day.
The very next day we began the cleanup and recovery process. People came from everywhere, they organized and began cleaning up our home, which was now unrecognizable to me. Every item of my belongings, including clothing and furniture had to be touched. Not by me but by teams of strangers who were in my house for days and weeks.
This is when a true transformation began to unfold. It was through the gentle compassion and kindness that this houseful of strangers was touching my heart and soul in ways that I can only begin to describe. I will because that is how I came to know Tupac.
Music has always been a part of my life, all genres, I believe music shapes the soul. Through the cleanup process, I played music every day. It helped absorb some of the anguish and pain that I was going through.
Through Every Dark Night, There’s a Bright Day
In conversation, I asked one of the guys, who I had gotten close to, in situations like this, who was your go-to musical inspiration? His response to me was Tupac, go listen to Tupac’s song “Me Against the World” so I did. I listened and I listened, and then I REALLY listened, feelings stirred, emotions arose within me. As I continued to listen, I heard every layer, every note, every beat, every word spoke to me.
I had to hear more, who was this person Tupac? I told my new friend what I felt, he then suggested I listen to “Brenda’s Got A Baby” as I listened tears ran down my cheeks, my heart wide open and exposed, I just cried, and asked myself why?
The way Tupac sang this song from the depths of his heart with such emotion transferred through to my heart and soul. I became empowered and inspired to hear more music, more beats, more rhythm, more lyrics, what was Tupac saying?
O4L Online: That is truly remarkable. I think it’s fair to say that you were connected to Tupac and inspired by his deep, straight from the heart lyrics. Does a certain lyric or song of his stick out in your memory that inspired you to push on through the dark times?
As you know the catalog of Tupac’s music is quite extensive, picking one would
be near impossible for me. However, there is one, the first painting I created “Dear Mama” I cried throughout the entire painting. Teardrops fell from my cheeks on to the oils on the canvas. I too was a single mother back in the ’70s. In the painting you’ll see two mother’s holding their infant sons. I intimately identified and connected as a single mother.
O4L Online: What a connection you had with Tupac’s lyrics. So taking inspiration from ‘Pac’s lyrics you started putting Tupac’s messages into your own craft of art. This then sparked the beginning of Project Tupac, a gallery made up of deep and powerful paintings that capture Tupac’s message in the form of audio & visual interpretation. Can you tell us how you came up with the idea for Project Tupac?
Hearing Tupac’s powerful voice come forward with courage, passion, energy and honesty, strengthened by each word and note, images came through. The more I listened, his lyrics spoke of violence and drugs, discrimination and hate, turmoil and fear. Alongside this he spoke of love and hope, encouragement and appreciation.
I discovered Tupac was singing, not just about himself but he was speaking about all of us. Common social issues that are with us today in our local communities and globally. It is said that a true artist is not only inspired but one who inspires others.
Emboldened with this spirit, I began to paint what I was hearing and feeling. Before I knew it, I had ten paintings inspired by Tupac’s music, now what?
I called the Tupac Foundation in Atlanta, soon I was in communication with Vern Cambridge III, the Executive Director of the foundation. I introduced myself and explained what I was doing, his initial response was unbelievable. He asked if I was painting pictures of Tupac so I explained further. The fact that I was painting my interpretation of Tupac’s music, he was very interested in meeting me.
Visit To The Tupac Foundation
I was invited to Atlanta and to also attend “The Tupac Amaru Collection Conference – Hip Hop, Education & Expanding the Archival Imagination” at Atlanta University. I excitingly attended and brought with me a copy of “Dear Mama” as a gift for Afeni Shakur.
Immediately upon entering the Foundation, chills ran through my body and tears filled my eyes. I could feel the presence of Tupac everywhere I looked. All around were portraits of Tupac, his awards and record collections covered the walls.
After meeting with Mr Cambridge he assured me that what I was doing, painting Tupac’s music had never been done before. I was the first person to do so. The Foundation have thousands of images drawn and painted of Tupac. But never before has anyone interpreted his music and lyrics, let alone as images on canvas.
That weekend, I introduced the first ten paintings in a picture book, sharing with those who attended the conference. Overwhelmingly, I was encouraged to embrace what I was doing and to continue painting. From that weekend, the name, “Project Tupac” was officially created.
O4L Online: From looking at your painting’s in Project Tupac we can really feel ‘Pac’s message in all of them. For example your ‘Changes’ painting. Visually you can see that exact message from Tupac in your painting. In the midst of all the unrest in the world today we are finding ‘Pac’s lyrics more and more relevant. What do you think people can learn from his music and the messages that you relay in your paintings?
I’ll let Tupac’s own words speak for me.
Those who wish to follow me, My ghetto gospel, I welcome with my hand.
There’s no need for you to fear me if you take your time and hear me, Maybe you can learn to cheer me. It ain’t about black or white ‘cause we human. I hope we see the light before it’s ruined, my ghetto gospel.
Once I understand the message of a particular Tupac song, from the depths of my soul, I find the colors and images that best match the intensity of the human drama that is being told by Tupac. With that same spirit, I begin to paint his message to the world on canvas.
When you see a painting the viewer begins a unique experience as they view the painting and hear the correlating song. Together you feel the beat and rhythm and you hear the intensity of each song as Tupac sang it.
This experience reveals deep, private and personal emotions that are different for every viewer. I usually have Kleenex’s nearby.
Think about the message in Ghetto Gospel, this painting was chosen in an art event that I participated in. It lit up a 40 story skyscraper in Times Square in New York, the American Eagle Building. Tupac lit up Times Square, that was pretty incredible and a powerful statement.
O4L Online: Feeling connected to Tupac, you mentioned before that you were lucky enough to visit the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation in Atlanta before it closed. Can you tell us more about the visit and also about how Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur, endorsed Project Tupac?
I was fortunate to visit The Tupac Amaru Foundation twice. Each time I walked away feeling empowered and encouraged to continue moving forward with Project Tupac.
On August 29, 2012, I wrote the first of several letters to Tupac’s mother. It was extremely important to me, that I introduce myself, to explain how and why Project Tupac got started, and I would only continue if I had her respect and approval. Honoring and respecting her was paramount.
I explained that, as an artist, I am about to cross boundaries and fears, that I have about myself. I questioned myself hundreds of times, why was I painting these paintings that centered around Tupac’s music?
Also explained to Afeni was that the core of each painting is love and that is intertwined with her son, Tupac. That there was a story in Tupac’s songs that needed to be told and shared with the world. I would be that vehicle.
Continuing my correspondence to Tupac’s mother, through Vern Cambridge the Executive Director at The Tupac Foundation, updating her as I progressed with Project Tupac. I was assured multiple times that Afeni approved and gave Mr Cambridge the authority to tell me to continue and move forward with Project Tupac.
O4L Online: So not only was your art given the thumbs up from Queen Afeni Shakur but you received some very encouraging words from Naomi King, Martin Luther King’s Sister-in-Law at an art show. Can you share what she said and how it spurred you on to create this amazing project?
At the conference I attended in Atlanta, I met Kitty Pope, Publications Editor for African Diaspora Tourism. She was hosting the African Diaspora World Tourism & Travel Expo in Atlanta, April 2013.
She asked if I would participate and have a preview Art Exhibition, in which I agreed to bring six paintings, with the accompanying music. There were over 200 attendees of trailblazers and leaders in the field of travel and tourism in the United States. It was at the opening night ceremonies, where the first Project Tupac Painting Exhibition began.
I stood before a room filled to capacity and explained Project Tupac. The healing power of Tupac’s music and my painted interpretation of ‘Pac’s music and how it touches the heart and helps strengthen the soul.
That is when the guest of honor, Mrs Naomi King, got up from her chair to give me the warmest, most heartfelt hug you could ever receive. As tears fell from my cheeks, she said “Please don’t stop painting, we need your paintings, they need to be seen, don’t stop.”
At that very moment in time, if Mrs Naomi King approved Project Tupac, with all of her wisdom and life experiences, then I knew any fears I had, would fade away.
O4L Online: That’s so touching and warming. You have over 20 amazing paintings in Project Tupac. Out of the paintings you have done so far, which one is your favorite and has the most meaning?
Currently, I am working on the 23rd painting in the Project Tupac Collection. That’s why this project is so amazing and ever-growing when you line up each painting they tell a very powerful story that everyone around the world can relate to these images of Tupac’s musical expression.
Project Tupac Art Exhibition
In June 2017, I held the largest four day Project Tupac Art Exhibition in Martina Franca, Italy. I believe it’s important to bring in the community to help create and participate in the exhibition.
In both English and Italian, we educated those who never heard of Tupac or his music. We included local dancers to perform their own interpretation of Tupac’s music through dance and encouraged those who wanted to sing to sing.
We launched the global painting “All Eyez On Me Painting”. It’s an ever-growing painting that the community draws, color or paints their version of an eye or eyes. It then becomes part of the painting along with thousands of other participants. Their energy is transformed onto the canvas, the viewer can stand back and see “All Eyez On Them”! Thousands from young to old participated.
O4L Online: The Project Tupac Art Exhibition sounds and looked awesome! Do you have any future plans for Project Tupac that you would like to share?
My ultimate vision for Project Tupac would be to have the opportunity to take it on the road, city to city, community events. It’s more than an Art Show, it’s an Art & Music Experience, it goes beyond a simple reproduction of reality. It touches the deeper aspects of human experience and life and by means of images used metaphorically and symbolically.
Nothing is for sale. I believe these paintings belong to the community. I have paid for everything myself, therefore I’m open to receiving any thoughts or ideas on how to continue to move Project Tupac forward.
O4L Online: Your story of how you heard Tupac’s music and turned his message into visual artwork is remarkable. Linda thank you for talking to O4L Online. We wish you all the best in getting Project Tupac on the road, it would be great to see.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to share with you Project Tupac.