Esteban Whiteside (b. 1985) is a self-taught painter whose work is based on the intersectionality of street art and politics. A native of Asheville, North Carolina, he began painting as an act of love, which then led to him dedicating more time and research into painting, with an interest in abstraction. Having always been inspired by outspoken artists, after seeing the death of Michael Brown, he felt he could no longer create work that didn’t address social issues, and began developing an artist narrative stemming from circumstances affecting the Black community. It was at this pivotal point that his inspiration shifted from abstract expressionism and artists like Romare Bearden, to what he calls “concrete oppressionism”, focusing solely on creating work containing a direct, political message, leaving little room for interpretation. He eventually relocated to Washington, D.C., where he began showing his paintings just outside of his neighborhood. The polarizing reactions in the feedback he got from passers-by motivated him to continue producing. With the overt nature of his work’s messaging, Whiteside says, “I want the right people to love it, and if you feel guilty that’s probably how you’re supposed to feel about it.”
After garnering some attention from showing his works on the street, he was offered the opportunity to show his work in a group exhibition. In a surprising twist of fate, the works were taken down after the opening night due to the owners’ apprehension against sharing such politically charged work during the heightened emotions of the 2016 presidential election. In solidarity with the freedom of expression of artists, other artists came forward offering Whiteside opportunities to show his work is more progressive spaces. After a series of successful group exhibitions, he presented work in a two-person show at The Fridge, where he was encouraged to be openly controversial as he wanted to be, reaffirming his freedom of expression.