Though the Juneteenth 2023 festivities are now in the rearview mirror, the powerful story remains as do the Juneteenth storytellers. One of those storytellers is muralist Dantrel Bonae Boone.
Internationally celebrated and Houston-based public artist Reginald Adams tapped Boone to be part of the team that created the iconic and original “Absolute Equality” mural in Galveston that was unveiled on Juneteenth 2021. As Adams has been called upon to paint Juneteenth murals across the country and world, he once again recruited Boone to help.
The Defender caught up with the “visual conversationalist” Boone, a Ft. Worth native and Texas Southern University alum, during the June 14, 2023 unveiling of Houston’s “Absolute Equality” mural (at the African American Research Center, 1300 Victor St., Houston, TX 77019, Freedmen’s Town). Boone discussed his past, present and future in art.
DEFENDER: Tell us about the experience of being part of two “Absolute Equality” murals.
DANTREL BONAE BOONE: Very humbling. The major thing about the Juneteenth mural in Galveston, it’s on the original spot where [General Order Number 3] was read, and on the other side of that wall, they used to sell our ancestors. So, [that wall] being 5,000 square feet, 40 feet high, it was a challenge for someone of my stature to get up there. But I stood on the shoulders of my ancestors, and right across from me, there was a webcam. And my 94-year-old grandmother (Alma Johnson) was able to sit at home and watch me do this, being that she was the direct granddaughter of a bonded woman. And she saw so many different things through sharecropping, Jim Crow laws, all the way up until now. So, I took that energy, I took that drive, and every time I felt like coming down off the side of that wall, I thought of her.
DEFENDER: Did your grandmother get to see your latest work?
BOONE: Oh, today, she’s 96 years old. Reginald gave me a call and he said, “Hey, man, you were part of the first one. I gotta have you on this one.” So, it was a complete honor to do it again. [My grandmother is] 96. She gets to see her dreams, the things that she fought for, come to full fruition. And that is the most important thing to me as we move forward and continue to fight for absolute quality.
DEFENDER: What does the Juneteenth story mean to you?
BOONE: Let’s just quantify the truth. We weren’t given anything in this country. We took it. And that’s what we are actually honoring. We’re not honoring, “Oh, are we going to honor you and finally say you are a human being.” No. We declared we are human beings. We have the right to freedom. We have the right to equality. And we still have to fight. A people who you could start at a race 50 yards behind the starting line, and we’re still there. We’re still in the race. That’s the fear . Because you cannot hold us back. Our ancestors burn in us. They call for us to do what’s right, to stand up as humans. And that’s what my total drive. When I’m painting, that’s what I’m feeling.
DEFENDER: How long you been an artist?
BOONE: I’ve been an artist all my life. The first story that I can tell about being an artist is my mom walking in and finding out at seven that I drew all over my walls. And she was mad for a second. Then she said, “Wait a minute. That’s beautiful.” And she left it.
DEFENDER: Are you from Houston?
BOONE: No. Actually, I’m from Fort Worth, Texas. In 1989, I was honored and privileged to attend the Dr. John Bigger School of Art at Texas Southern University when John was there. So, shout out to Professor Harvey Johnson, Robert Pruitt, Nathaniel Donne, and all the people and students of that wonderful school.
DEFENDER: Do you have any artists you look up to?
BOONE: I have an artist lineage, and it starts with Charles White and Diego Rivero, because both of them were dealing with social issues as they created. Now, I like to say the son of Charles White is Dr. John Biggers, who’s my artistic grandfather. From there, there are many people; artists Lashon Beal put the paintbrush in my hand. Reginald Adams, of course, showed me that I could do things that I didn’t know I could do. True story, my first mural I ever did was with him. And I said, how am I gonna do this? And he said, “A wall is nothing but a bigger canvas.” And that’s why I say he’s the flame and the torch of public art.