Hebru Brantley

Iconifying Black Military History

February 4, 2022

The Army and Navy Club Library Trust is proud to present Hebru Brantley: Iconifying Black Military History, an exhibition of American artist Hebru Brantley. Brantley creates narrative-driven work that fuses street art, comics, commercial art, and social justice art with traditional Western ideas of “high art.” His body of work centers around a cast of fictional characters, including his iconic Flyboy, who is inspired by the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American military aviators in the United States Armed Forces. Brantley created Flyboy—a play on the “flyboy” of military parlance and the slang term “fly,” meaning “cool”—in response to the lack of characters of color in the popular culture of his youth. Sporting a traditional leather aviator helmet and goggles, Flyboy iconifies the Tuskegee airmen into a kind of beloved cartoon that connects with American communities today.

Two works by Brantley on view at our Club, Lord of the Fly and Lil Mama, offer an underestimated vision of the U.S. military’s homeland cultural influence—one in which African American children dream of being American heroes. The Tuskegee Airmen and Wonder Woman, whose influences are emphasized in the two works on view, are representative of American legends who stood with determination in defense of their country, despite it not always providing them with the equitable treatment they deserved.

In honor of the long history of service among African Americans in the U.S. military, The Army and Navy Club Library Trust works to enhance its exhibitions and collections with a more diverse—and thus more accurate—portrait of military service. Brantley’s artworks exemplify this mission.

This exhibition is organized by The Army and Navy Club Library Trust, courtesy of GLH Galleries, Houston.