Chicagoans You Should Know: Artist and Activist Maxwell Emcays


Maxwell Emcay’s Demand Justice

Maxwell Emcays is not only an artist, but he is revolutionizing Chicago with his art activism project series titled: Demand Justice. With all the social injustice and violence going on in Chicago now, Emcays uses this outlet to exercise civil liberties and to advocate for rights throughout the city. His public Justice Art Pop-Up Installation is making movements to defend rights in Chicago.

Emcays essentially incorporated a “flash mob” aspect where the Demand Justice Pop-Up Art installations include a local DJ, featured dancer, music artist, poet, painter, and more. For 10 minutes to 2 hours to capture the audience’s attention about human rights activism, he and his team pop up randomly in different locations all over the city of Chicago.

Emcays states, “This piece [Demand Justice] is special because it’s one of my largest pieces in a public area, so this brings an opportunity for people to engage with the art. It wasn’t triggered by one singular event, but it resonates with the rest of my work in the activism space, so it was just another way for me to express our activism.”

When Emcays travels around Chicago in the deprived areas, he sees the amount of potential. “I look at Chicago once again as an unpolished stone, and I see the shimmery shine, and that’s where my optimism comes from.”

As proclaimed on his website, seven years ago Emcays was couch surfing and sleeping on the CTA trains. Emcays began his creative journey producing digitally born work,  a t-shirt as his only canvas. While attending The University of Illinois, he explored the relationship between meaning as it pertains to context. Today he is a philanthropist and participates in multiple charitable projects and is a full-time artist focused on art activism.

Stylistically, he references abstract expressionism, pop art, and Afrocentrism. He channels his creative process and rendering to echo the underlying theme.

Emcays is a full-time artist with showings and collectors throughout Chicago, nationwide and internationally. He possesses creativity, but also realized that his creativity had a label to it.  From seeing the current reality of society, he found tags for what it was called even concerning “activism.”

“I was always doing it but later on in college I found labels for what it is. I do all my work primarily with string theory; [Demand Justice] is a byproduct of the string theory project. I primarily work with wood and the string theory has this energetic abstract line that I create, so the final piece is always like a sculpture at each portrait.  The whole series has a bunch of portraits and Demand Justice is a product of that.”

His artwork has been displayed at the Miami Art Basel, Chicago galleries, the DuSable Museum, private collections and highlighted on NBC’s “Making a Difference.”

Emcays does have prestigious collectors such as Spike Lee and Steve Harvey, but he is still modest and is still working on his craft.

A recent pop-up installation theme on August 25, on 35th and Michigan, was for Parents in Demand of Justice for their children who were killed in Chicago. The Demand Justice project is showcased randomly throughout the week as weather permits. Emcays will keep doing the project possibly until the end of October and adjust accordingly for the winter season.

“I do a few every week; they’re all spread out from downtown throughout the city of Chicago. I’ve done about 50 installations right now, and I plan to do a lot more before the closing project and am also into welcoming collaborators as well; they don’t have to be an artist.”

If you would like to see any of Emcays exhibitions [or catch him there], there is a physical location at the Gallery Guichard located at 436 East 47th Street. Also check out his website where you can contact him, sign up to join the movement, learn more about his artistry and the Demand Justice project.

For anyone who is an artist and not sure what to do, Emcays offers a unique piece of advice.

“Be rebellious and patient, in the sense of going against everything [with creation]; don’t accept anything; if you’re going to be creative, don’t follow the norm. Think about your thoughts and your creative process in your approach.”

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