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Louisiana Artist Modernizes Sacred Art

Baton Rouge-based artist Jacob Zumo is breaking down barriers with his art. Because of his innovative approach to portrait painting, he has attracted a diverse audience. For him, it’s about making traditional art more accessible to the modern world — without losing the meaning central to it.

“I’m still learning my faith [and] using this opportunity to become closer to God through my art.”

Video Transcript

Meet Jacob Zumo: innovative painter

(We see a selection of some of Jacob’s paintings of celebrities)

Jacob Zumo: Ended up doing a painting for a rapper in Baton Rouge named Kevin Gates, um, just to kind of meet him and jog his brain, and we ended up talking for like 30 minutes to an hour, and it was funny, it was like a trickle effect after that. It was Drake a week later, Snoop Dogg a week later. 

(Pictures of Jacob standing with Drake and Snoop Dogg and the paintings he made of them.)

(Jacob sitting in front of some of his paintings.)

So I kind of found my market there, but it came to the point where like, I have an opportunity here to really bring something to the table with the reach that we’re getting. And, you know, I’ve always — not struggled with my faith, but — had trouble just digging deep. And really my art at this point is almost like my spiritual direction and my apostolate, like how am I diving myself deeper into my peers and myself into the sacred?

(We see some of Jacob’s paintings with religious images)

So I did a year in Italy, um, at the only sacred art school in the world, the Sacred Art School of Firenze. For me, what I saw when I went in there, like great technical painting, but what are we pushing and really how do we modernize sacred art without changing that Renaissance style, without changing that Renaissance realism? 

(Famous Renaissance paintings and statues)

When I got back, I had done a piece in Italy of a Black Saint Sebastian, and it was for, you know, I’m in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and we have, you know, a lot of Black folks here, and you know, you might go in a Catholic church and all you see are white icons. And we have Black saints, but what can I do to modernize sacred art? And that’s what I keep coming back to. So it’s like, can I change icons to a different race to bring, you know, the Black folk here and have them feel okay? 

(Jacob’s painting: a Black Saint Sebastian is tied to a tree with wounds on his body.)

With the times right now it’s like, whoa! What is this story? Instead of like it being an icon where you automatically know it is like a sacred piece. So, you know, this is already an intriguing painting — like, you know, well let me tell you the real story, let me tell you something about a saint. 

(More of Jacob’s paintings with religious images such as the Last Supper and Our Lady of Guadalupe)

You know, really starting that conversation and not so much making sacred art cool but making it okay. I’m still learning my faith, you know, using this opportunity to become closer to God through my art, and likewise, yeah for it to translate out. 

My Instagram is @artbyjzumo and my website is jzumo.com.

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