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A Racist Act Inspired Harlem Globetrotter Max Pearce's Latest Art Collection 'Art of an Athlete'

Max Pearce

“It was amazing! I wasn’t expecting the turnout that we had. Family, friends, teammates and then a bunch of the artwork was acquired by other people,” said Max Pearce about his Art Basel Miami Art Week debut.

In 2020 Pearce, guard for the Harlem Globetrotters, had a banana thrown at him during a TV appearance in Alabama where he was promoting an upcoming game. The racist and embarrassing act facilitated by the on-air news team during a demo of those famous Globetrotter moves was an experience that would change Pearce in many ways.

“I think I’ve found my voice. I’ve always had a passion and a fire in me, but I needed an experience to really push me over the edge,” said Pearce. That experience was the inspiration behind his debut exhibition at Art Basel this month, Art of an Athlete. The mixed-medium art exhibit highlights the lives of athletes that used their celebrity to speak to injustice while honoring themselves and their race. Pearce aims to showcase the challenges athletes face just being themselves while playing for the public.

“The biggest challenge to being a professional athlete, in general, is that you are under a microscope at all times,” said Pearce. “But then being an athlete of color brings its own set of obstacles, historically, athletes of color are not afforded the space to speak out about issues that directly affect them.”

More Than an Athlete

Following Pearce’s public acknowledgment and rejection of the racist act he was met with backlash, death threats and more racial slurs in an attempt to silence him, but he had something else in mind. “I decided that I was going to use this as a teachable moment but address a lot of these issues through my artwork,” said Pearce. “And so, this collection of art has been heavily focused on highlighting athletes from the past and the present who use their platform to speak out against social and racial injustice.”

Pearce who’s been creating art since he was a young child and came from a family of painters took 11 months to bring Art of an Athlete to life and felt that this was one of the best ways to combat his experience. “Art is a form of expression. It sparks important conversation and it’s therapeutic,” said Pearce. He was inspired by current and former athletes Colin Kaepernick, Serena and Venus Williams, Natasha Cloud, Tommie Smith and John Carlos because they have taken the approach of power over silence.


“They’re excellent on the court or their field of sport but their willingness to be vocal and address important issues off the court is what really makes them so much more impactful than their peers,” said Pearce. “I try to incorporate as much of my journey as an athlete, which at large contributes to my journey as a person. I try to incorporate all of those things in my artwork to tell the story about myself, but also at the same time highlight the athlete.”

The growth that Pearce has experienced since 2020 as a person and athlete has helped him find more value in the importance of using his platform and voice for more. “Athletes who are on the fence about using their platform. I want to encourage them to do so,” said Pearce. “I really want to call attention to the contributions that we’ve made to life outside of our sport. My art focuses on athletes that are committed to change in the right direction, creating an environment where there’s equity and inclusion regardless of where it is.”

Still Standing

With the goal of highlighting the issues of athletes in a timeless manner, through the eyes of an athlete, Pearce’s first exhibition was well received by the public and his peers. Pearce’s artwork can be seen in Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C. in the coming months as his art career kicks off. “This will be more of an introduction to who I am as an artist, which further speaks to who I am as a person,” Pearce shares.


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