Airport art leads to unlikely connection

“First [Hair] Kut” by David Roby; This Professional Category Painting won Honorable Mention at the 4th Annual Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport's National Arts Program® Exhibit.

By Jennifer Ogunsola​

Communications Manager

It’s not unusual to walk through a large airport and spot friends, family members and others you may know. Many people travel domestically and internationally on airplanes, so spotting a familiar face is pretty typical. But, imagine walking through the busiest airport in the world and seeing yourself, or one of your close family members, on display.

While that isn’t a normal occurrence, the passenger experience at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) is anything but normal. Just ask the Perry family.

Andre Perry, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, his wife Joia, and their seven-year-old son, Robeson, discovered just how unique Hartsfield-Jackson is after traveling to Atlanta for New Year’s Eve this past year.

“I travel to Hartsfield-Jackson at least 20 times a year, probably more,” the Washington D.C. resident explained. “My wife also travels extensively. She has made dozens of stops in Atlanta, and my son has been there several times.”

When walking through Atlanta’s airport, you may be in awe of many things, including its size, the world-class restaurants, upscale stores, and award-winning art exhibits throughout the Domestic atrium and seven concourses.

“Each time that we’re in Hartsfield-Jackson, we notice the art … and in particular, we love looking at some of the historical photos of civil rights leaders,” Perry said. “Atlanta has such a rich tradition, particularly for African-Americans, and so the art in Atlanta’s airport often reflects history, but [there are] also a lot of stand-alone pieces that any connoisseur would appreciate.”

David Vogt, ATL’s Art Program manager and artist, developed the Airport’s art concept in 1996 right before the Olympics. “Our installations are incredibly unique, and it’s fantastic to see how successful the different exhibits are in terms of delighting passengers,” Vogt said.

“It’s great to see people with their cellphones taking videos and selfies of our art installations.”

For the Perrys, “selfies” gained a new meaning during their New Year’s Eve trip through ATL.

As the trio headed to their departing gate, the father noticed – in the corner of his eye – his son’s image in a display case on Concourse T.

“It startled me because seeing an image of your child in an airport is crazy. I honestly didn’t know how it got there,” Perry said.

Perry’s reaction got the attention of his wife and son, and they all looked at the picture in amazement.

The portrait was of Perry’s son getting a haircut on his first birthday. Perry said the image made him nostalgic as he remembered that rite-of-passage moment, which he captured in a photo.

“That was a classic father-son moment,” Perry said. “Whenever you see rituals and traditions that African-American boys and men participate in, you have to appreciate them. To have it on display at the airport in Atlanta, where hundreds of thousands of people travel every day warms my heart,” he added.

Vogt recalled instances where other passengers made connections to specific art exhibits, but admits that this connection is rather peculiar.

The artist, David Roby, shares an astonishing similarity as the young boy in the portrait: their name.

Robeson Perry’s nickname is Roby.

“The whole thing is just unexplainable,” Vogt said.

“For it to be on display when the family just happened to be moving through the Airport was completely shocking.”

The display was part of the Airport’s fourth annual Employee Art Exhibit, led by the National Arts Program. The program welcomes ATL employee and members of their immediate families to participate in a professional visual arts exhibition and offers cash prizes for top works.

David Roby, who unknowingly named his work, “First Kut,” is an immediate family member of one of ATL’s concessions employees. He participated in the competition for two years, and for this piece, Roby was recognized as an honorable mention but placed first the year prior.

“I was looking for a project to do,” explained the artist, who Googled photos for inspiration. I like [painting] children, and it caught my eye.”

The former barber recognized a little fear in the photographed boy’s face, so titled his oil-on-canvas piece after a first-time barber visit.

The Atlanta artist learned to draw in the ‘70s, exploring different mediums and techniques.

“It was something to give me peace,” Roby said. “It was a pleasure.”

As for what the family did after they snapped a picture of their son in front of his portrait?

“I went through my phone to find the actual image,” Perry explained.

“After I found it, I asked my social media community if anyone knew the artist.”

“We should always have art on display in public places where there’s a lot of congestion, traffic and movement because we need to take the time to appreciate the beautiful things in life,” Perry added. “Yes, we might be in a rush to get to our plane, but stop for a moment, pause, reflect, look at the art, look at what people are going through, and feel the energy of the artist,” he said.

When reflecting on the importance of ATL’s art program, Vogt said, “Airports are about making connections, connecting people to different destinations, bringing families together. The art program does that in so many different ways. It connects people to memories of nature, feelings, and it also roots their travel experience with something memorable here at the Airport.”

As for Perry and his family, their fondness for ATL and its art will never diminish. He received “First Kut” as a gift from his wife on Father’s Day. His son Robeson also loves the discovered portrait.

“My son could see that it was him,” Perry shared of their first viewing. “Afterward, he said, ‘I’m famous.'”

David Roby’s art, including “First [Hair] Kut,” can be found on

(this article was reposted from the following source)