As a young, black kid growing up in a predominately white neighborhood in Philadelphia, Devan Shimoyama first remembers hearing the term “sweet” being used in a positive context.
“The term ‘sweet’ had been used by white friends as something more like ‘cool’ or ‘awesome,’” Shimoyama told NBC News.
It wasn’t until Shimoyama went on to middle school in a different neighborhood that he noticed a change in how the word was being used by those around him.
“I had never been around so many other black boys and girls and recall the term being used towards me in a derogatory way,” he said.
Shimoyama, who identifies as gay, said he would especially hear the term thrown at him in gym class when he didn’t excel in basketball, or used against him because of the way he walked or talked.
“That's when I knew there was a shift in the meaning of that word in this new context,” Shimoyama said.
Eventually, the young student learned to stay quiet and assimilate into what he described as a more heteronormative ideal of masculinity — all in an effort to protect himself from being called “sweet” by his classmates.
Today, things are different for the Yale-trained visual artist. Shimoyama has taken ownership of the term and has even incorporated it into his first solo exhibition.
Titled “Sweet" and on display at New York's De Buck Gallery until December 9, the series of paintings and mixed media art pieces were inspired by conversations Shimoyama had with other gay black men about their experiences in black barbershops. These conversations helped allow the artist to reimagine the familiar setting into a space more inclusive of queer and transgender individuals. Read more via NBC
‘Hush’ is still up along with the rest of my work in ‘Sweet’ at @debuckgallery until December 9th! Check if out if you haven’t. Swipe over to see @emilycolucci and in our director chairs talking about the show. Thanks so much to everyone who attended, and for asking such great questions. So thankful to have had a full house of people supporting me and eager to listen to us unpack the work. ✨✨✌🏾