Dometi Pongo on MTV's 'The Exhibit' Says "Acquiring Art Doesn't Have to Be Intimidating" (EXCLUSIVE)
During MTV’s inception in 1981, the network showcased the art form of music videos with The Buggles’s “Video Killed the Radio Star” being the first to achieve mainstream exposure. From there, the network focused on sharing music videos of all genres until the late ‘90s.
MTV has since ushered in a new art form: reality TV. Viewers miss the days when music videos reigned supreme, but folks have become accustomed to their new normal.
MTV’s flair for trendsetting hasn’t been lost on its viewers. So, it comes as no surprise that the network is getting back to its roots — in a sense — and has chosen to showcase art via the new docu-competition series The Exhibit: Finding the Next Great Artist.
The show, which is hosted by journalist and on-air personality, Dometi Pongo, features seven artists competing to win $100,000 and an exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
So, who is Dometi Pongo? In an exclusive interview with Distractify, Dometi got candid about landing the hosting gig and how the docu-competition series has changed his perception of art and life.
Dometi Pongo is an award-winning journalist, speaker, and host working for MTV, Sirius XM, The Smithsonian Channel, and more.
Deciding to focus on social justice as a journalist is no easy feat. Not only does it come with the prerequisite of compassion, knowledge, and relatability, but it also involves unapologetically pushing the needle on controversial topics that need to be discussed.
This is where award-winning journalist and on-air personality Dometi Pongo leads the pack.
Over the years, the 31-year-old Chicago native has used his love of pop culture and passion for social issues to build a successful career. Aside from hosting red carpet events, Dometi hosts MTV’s docu-series True Life Crime, MTV News’s Need to Know, and various programs on the Smithsonian Channel, including Conversations in Context, which addresses key moments in Black history.
Although Dometi’s résumé speaks for itself, his latest gig as host of MTV and the Smithsonian Channels joint series, The Exhibit: Finding the Next Great Artist, serves as an award within itself, even though he admits he initially felt unprepared for it.
While Dometi was “ecstatic and super excited,” to join the show, he said he was a bit thrown off by the short notice.
“In production, sometimes things move so fast. I got called about two days before the first shoot,“ Dometi exclusively told Distractify. “ I love art, I love Black art, I love street art, I love things that just make me happy. But I don't have the base knowledge of European art or what's considered fine art. So I would have loved some time to get acquainted with that.”
Interestingly, Dometi stepping into the space somewhat blind was purposeful. Dometi recalls a conversation with a producer who explained that his level of art knowledge mirrors the thinking of the everyday person watching the show.
“She says, ‘No, that's the gift. You get to serve as a stand-in for the layperson, the regular everyday person who asks, ‘Why is that piece compelling? Why does that matter?'" Dometi told us.
Dometi Pongo shares that Jennifer Warren’s gender norm piece hit home and changed his way of thinking.
In the premiere episode, all seven artists were tasked with creating art inspired by how they view gender norms. Chicago native Jennifer Warren, a talented oil painter, won the challenge.
Interestingly, before Jennifer created the piece, she had an interesting conversation with her mother about gender norms within her family as a Black woman that birthed a deeper conversation on social media. And for Dometi, Jennifer’s story and artwork made him look back at his upbringing and view of the world.
“I'm the youngest of three and I have two older sisters,” Dometi explained. “There's a way that I, my older and middle sisters moved through the world that I see is played in part because of gender dynamics in how we were raised.”
Dometi added, “So when she painted that, it forced me to start to think about how these [gender norms] are at play in my life. In both positive and negative ways. And how do I use my position to make space for other people where it played out in ways that weren't progressive?”
Aside from Jennifer’s piece, Dometi explained that other art pieces featured throughout the season caused him to reflect on his life.
Dometi shared that while "art is subjective, it’s only subjective to a certain point." As viewers watch The Exhibit: Finding the Next Great Artist, Dometi's hope is for people to understand that "acquiring art doesn't have to be a mystical, intimidating process, and appreciating art doesn't have to be an intimidating process to the average person."
As Dometi's partner-in-crime and lead judge Melissa Chiu says, this show is all about "radical accessibility."
Catch new episodes of The Exhibit: Finding the Next Great Artist Fridays at 10 p.m. EST on MTV.