Black is Not Yours

Did you know that it is unethical for people of other races to appropriate imagery, ideas, and even stereotypes that are “black”?? I didn’t know that ideas of  “blackness” belonged solely to Black people. By the way, who says what is black and what isn’t??

A little back story. A local sculpture and performance artist (who shall not be named) had a performance a few weeks ago that involved singing, clapping, as well as call-and-response. This artist is a white male, handsome, fantastic musician, and originally from the east coast. Someone (who shall not be named) is a female, latina, catholic writer who was offended by his performance that she felt appropriated Black music, “Black church traditions” and themes that he had no right to appropriate.

1. What is Black music?

I didn’t know that Black people had Black music. Sure, we have music in which we dominate. PAUSE: I truly truly believe that record labels search for some of the most dumbest, simplest rappers, and horrible singers that are black. They use these talentless people to sell products, make fools out of themselves and potentially a slew of people that resemble them. Don’t believe me?? There is a rapper with an ice cream cone tattooed on his face, there is a big bootied woman with pink hair and too white teeth that speak nothing about war, love, community…NADA. When did music become about the deliverer and less about communicating a message? The big bootied pink wig wearing chick I’m referring to, can’t hold a flame to Lauryn Hill in terms of lyrics and content….just sayin. PLAY: The artist who was accused of parodying “Black church and culture” played soulful, funk, music while singing. I didn’t  know this was a crime and neither did he.Oh and did we forget about singers like Whitney Houston  sang an all time favorite love song, “I will Always Love You” was written by Dolly Parton? So was Whitney appropriating white singing and culture??

2. Black churches??

I always had a problem with the idea of “Black Churches”. Thanks to years and years of brain washing (and Tyler Perry), people have come to believe that “Black Churches” are these animated places of worship where people participate in call-and-response, “catch the holy ghost”, scream/shout, clap, cry, say things like ” Thank you Lord Jesus!Amen! Hallelujah! ajdasfhgingsoghrgn (speaking in tongues)” and dance in the aisles. These ideas are so limiting its ridiculous. Do you think in New Oreleans ( a city with one of the largest populations of Black Catholics) have people that speak in tongues and the priest jumps up and down in the pulpit?? Or what about in Atlanta or Chicago where there are large amounts of Black Muslims. Do you think in between prayers and kneeling that they shout and clap?

3. The right to Appropriate?

In this day and age, where ” information is the newest religion” (Talib Kweli Quote) can we seriously limit our thinking to Black, White, etc. Am I limiting my blog by focusing on these ideas?In other words, if the appropriation of music, imagery, philosophy etc is limited to our race, what do we do now? The artist who shall not be named, was reassured that his performance was not racist nor was it a parody of  “Black culture and ideas”. And he can play funk music and Nina Simone all day everyday if it makes him happy. He shouldn’t be limited to music that was created by “white” people from the east coast, nor should he have to explain himself to someone who has already made up their mind about him. After all, what would be the point? It was a strange and unfortunate conversation that needed to happen. We all took a second, third, fourth look at the work and saw no sign of racism or parody. For the young lady who shall not be named…. Get a grip! How are you offended by the “Black Church” appropriations as a Latin Catholic Woman?! And how dare you tell me or anybody else that A,B,C equals “Black church” ?Psh Please!

I enjoyed the performance AND the 3 beautiful Black woman that  accompanied me  also enjoyed themselves immensely. Kudos to the the artist who shall not be named, you did a great job!

I met Mark Bradford!! What did you do with your Thursday Night?!

” Mark Bradford transforms materials scavenged from the street into wall-sized collages and installations that respond to the impromptu networks—underground economies, migrant communities, or popular appropriation of abandoned public space—that emerge within a city. Drawing from the diverse cultural and geographic makeup of his southern Californian community, Bradford’s work is as informed by his personal background as a third- generation merchant there as it is by the tradition of abstract painting developed worldwide in the 20th Century. Bradford’s videos and map-like, multilayered paper collages refer not only to the organization of streets and buildings in downtown Los Angeles, but also to images of crowds, ranging from civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s to contemporary protests concerning immigration issues….” – Art 21

DMA STATE OF THE ARTS: CONVERSATION WITH ARTISTS VICKI MEEK AND MARK BRADFORD

A conversation with Mark Bradford is not about being dumbfounded. Some artists want to impress you so much with their intelligence and their ability to talk, that their lectures suffer. As they speak in a monotone voice about past artists, your eyes begin to focus on the carpet or the lady with the bird’s nest for hair. And somehow, after all the explanations, their art can still make you mutter “Much Ado about Nothing”. However Bradford’s work and lectures do neither. He is energetic, humorous, serious about his work and full of information. He is more than willing to take pictures with you, answer your questions and sign catalogs. His humor in companion with artist Vicki Meek made the night an amazing get away for myself and a few friends. We all walked away with a bit of advice, an autograph from Mark Bradford and memories. We were instantly inspired and believed we could one day sign books and take pictures with art students. What we doubted on the drive to Dallas, no longer existed when we walked out of the museum and onto the dewy streets of downtown Dallas.

I’m not sure if the Dallas Museum of Art recorded the lecture for Youtube or podcasts, but I am more than willing to share the a few points that I found most rewarding.

ART AND COMMUNITY one cannot exist without the other. It is interesting that in some communities the arts are appreciated as a creative outlet while in others it will only be appreciated if it has some form of monetary value. Vicki Meek is an artist but also an activist and creative force in South Dallas. She is the director of the South Dallas Cultural Center that specializes in teaching the history of Africa and its Diaspora through various forms of art such as dance, theater, visual arts (collage, jewelry making, photography, painting etc) ,music and writing. These programs are free for students within the community and are full every year! She also has programs for adults. I often wondered if I could  be an artist and give back to the community in a real way. Not just by giving a lecture and getting paid to do so, but by really working with children and teenagers who are not given this opportunity in their everyday education. People underestimate the gravity that art can have on a person that lives in a place with little success and little hope. Blacks have become identifiable, flat, and lack multiplicity. We talk loud, sing, dance, play basketball, and if we’re lucky we can be Obamas. Through the arts, Meek teaches children that they can be more than what is perpetuated on television, movies, and music. While Meek aides in the development of an artistic community, Bradford uses the community as source material for his artwork.

THE PROCESS is not a vision from God. Whoever introduced

In front of his 2006 collage "Schorched Earth"

this idea should be taught the definition of the word. And just in case you did not know, process is a series of actions and steps taken to achieve an end. The process is work and inspiration is…..always in flux for lack of a better term. Again Bradford and Meek are on two different ends of the spectrum. Bradford is in high demand and pumps out work like a machine while Meek does one to three shows a year. Meek works from all day everyday developing programs for the South Dallas Cultural Center and then goes home to design installations. Bradford is in the studio from 8am to 8pm with 2 assistants (one of whom is from his South Central Community) and work regardless of whether or not he feels like it. YOU HAVE TO WORK.NOT WORKING IS NOT AN OPTION. Bradford stressed that ” An artist cannot avoid making. There is an emphasis in art schools today to talk about your work versus manipulating material. And I aim to work because that is what I do.”

BLACK ARTIST and the connotations that are attached to the words will forever plague artists of color. While Meek has no problem being identified as a black artist, she knows that some of the connotations attatched to the terms indeed fit her work. Meek is interested in discussing the human conditions of blacks through visual elements. She is a black artist. She stated due to her age , she has no choice as to how the art world identifies her.  The generational gap is evident again as Bradford states “I don’t care what. I never cared. I went to New York one day as Black and came back as Post- Black. ” The audience burst into laughter. ” I don’t care. You can call me artist, black artist, African American artist, I really don’t care but don’t tell me what that means. Don’t tell me what being a black artist is suppose to be because I am my own person. ”

Feel free to ask any questions about the lecture. I will be more than willing to answer. Grab a few friends and make the three hour trek to Dallas. Viewing Bradford’s work will be worth the drive.

 

Comment Comment Comment

I know that writing a blog is….like journal writing. Therapeutic and narcissistic all at one time. Blogs can almost be seen as the equivalent of a corner preacher screaming to, “Hear me! Listen to me now!!” But I want to know what you think.So feel free to comment on posts, you can disagree, agree or share stories. If you want to write something let me know. If you think I’m wrong and dramatic, let me know that too. Like I said, I like comments and random bits of conversation. So ladies and Gents comment comment comment.

African American Vs. Black: What are we? Who are we?

My God, I love the internet. Information at your fingertips. Instant. For example, I googled ( GOOGLED!) ” Black or African American” and many many articles popped up on the screen ” Why I’m Black and not African American “, “Which is more politically correct: Black or African American”, ” Negro?” Over the years how we identify ourselves and how others choose to identify us has remained in flux. There has yet to be a solid answer as to how we are suppose to identify the “chocolaty” people. Check this, have you ever noticed that Caucasians never say, ” I’m Irish American because my great great great grandfather fled the potato fields and came to New York?” No. If you have, then you are a lucky beast. I’ve seen so many white people with four leaf clover tattoos and say they’re Irish yet they’ve never been to Ireland and can’t pick it out on a map. Interesting…. but I digress.

Earlier today I caught myself in the middle of a very intense conversation about how us “chocolaty folk” should be identified.  In this discussion we have a Nigerian fellow, myself and a older black gentlemen. PAUSE: I already know how I would like to be identified. I would L-O-V-E to fill out my job application and check ” American”.  However in this society that is impossible. I have to check the Black/African American box. In this instance, I prefer Black because I’m not African. Period. Don’t get me wrong. I love Africans….dated a few. However I am not African. Unfortunately, like most Blacks, I have no idea where my people are from. I’ve only been successful in tracing my lineage 100-150 years back and after that….the options are bleak. Further more one of my grandmothers is the color of manila paper and the other has the longest, thickest, silkiest hair you’ve ever seen. Point being, my lineage is so “mixed” , who says  black dominates the Native American and white blood that runs through my veins? PLAY: The Nigerian fellow begins to tell us that “Black” is a western idea. Nigerians, Ghanians, Sudanese etc do not refer to themselves as black. If a Nigerian calls another Nigerian “Black” he has been westernized. Mr. Nigerian continues by stating we ( i.e. Blacks or African Americans or Chocolaty folks) are not “Black” either. He says, ” Black is something that you have allowed to be imposed on you. But you are not African American either because you are not from Africa. My daughter is an African American because she is first generation.”  The next obvious question is now the pink elephant in the room. “What are we? Who are we? ” And Mr. Nigerian simply states “You’re American”.

If black is out of the running and African American drops out the race and American is taken off the table…..What are we?

I find this very interesting and I must confess that in previous posts and conversations I’ve used the term African American.But mostly because I’ve found that when I don’t, someone else is uncomfortable.I’ve actually been corrected when using the term “black”! Isn’t it funny what we do for others to make them feel comfortable??

As an artist and a person of the chocolaty complexion, I don’t have a choice in how I or my art is perceived. I’m a “black” or “African American” artist. I am not nor will I ever be an American artist. For example, Michael Ray Charles was listed as one of the most influential “African American artists of our time”. However throughout the article they used the term “black”. Now the terms are interchangeable?? At the Corcoran Gallery there is an exhibit titled “30 AMERICANS” which features big hitters such as Kehinde Wiley, Barkley L.Hendricks, Xaivera Simmons, and Hank Williams.But of course it is later explained that these are “African American” artists. Did anyone else notice that AMERICANS is capitalized in the title and in the press releases as if to say ” They are  American dammit! But just to clarify they’re African American….It says so in the synopsis of the show.”

Maybe we should take on “Chocolaty” and call it a day. And whatever happened to Negro??

Anyway, feel free to post your thoughts and concerns. Be Well.

Ask the Black Girl! 4 of the most common and annoying questions you could possibly ask.

As you know, I’m black. I paint, build and sometimes sculpt. And the color of my skin makes other people uncomfortable. Therefore, they concoct crazy questions to make themselves feel better and to let me know that “they feel my pain,sister”. I’ve come to accept this burden but that doesn’t stop it from being annoying as hell. The fact of the matter is, I’m not uncomfortable! I know what I look like, and I look damn good too. Like Fantasia Baron’s song, “I’m doing me” but that doesn’t make the questions HILARIOUS and stupid rolled into one. So I’ve decided to share a few, that I have the pleasure of being asked:

1) Do you feel awkward??You know ’cause you’re the only…..one….you know…blaaaack.

      This is the most current question. A fellow art student asked me this while we were talking about Italy. Why would you ask that? Chances are, I didn’t feel awkward until you pointed that out. Of course , I know that I’m one of 3 black people   at this opening. Of course, I spotted the only cute black man with a blue eyed white girl who wears Amish shoes and her great- grandma’s glasses. But what can you do?! That’s life in Austin.

2) How do you feel about Obama right now? You voted for him right?

3) Your hair is soooooo cool. I really wish I could do the same thing. How do you do that? Like, I know its an afro, but how do you get it to stand up like that??

Do not ask to touch my hair. Its not because your grabby fingers could “make my afro fall”, it is rude and after the 5th time, its annoying and unnecessary. I’m not a dog to pet. If you reach for my hair, I will slap your hand. Ask the guy who works at the Target in Addison, TX. I seriously bruised the dude.

4) What’s your art about? Is it about the movement of your people? Martin Luther King?  Its about race right? No, well what could it be about?

Its unfortunate that because I am a dark skinned woman,  my work is preconceived as addressing Africa and the African Diaspora. Yes, I (much like other peoples of color) have experiences that are inherently my own but that does not mean I’m focusing solely on those experiences. But yet again, its the world I live in….or is it?

I know this post sounds like an angry rant, but I find all these questions kind of funny and ridiculous. At the moment, I always have an “are you kidding me?!” look on my face, but later I grab a few friends and laugh about them. So, hopefully these made you laugh.

Be Well.

Margaret Meehan: White, Black and Glitter

First of all, kudos to Margaret Meehan and Women and Their Work! Meehan is the only artist that utilized the space effectively that I have witnessed over the past year. Now…..on to the art.

As a virgin to Margaret Meehan’s Work, this “review” is more so a recapping of a very interesting conversation I had at Dog and Duck with a group of grad students, installation crew members, artists and a few other random people from Austin. Of course, we all began with how much we liked the work and of course there was the  one person who “didn’t get it”. I’m always wary of the person that “didn’t get it”. And I’m more wary of the person (typically the same person) that refuses to read any material on the artist(s) because “the art should speak for itself”. Well….that’s true to an extent however you always learn something from reading about the artist. After everyone ordered their drinks and grabbed a picnic bench outside, I found myself in the middle of a very interesting conversation where multiple thoughts were flying out like bats at Congress bridge.

Thought No.1:  Why was the woman in white? Was she commenting on purity? Or European Beauty??

In this portion of the conversation, a few of the ladies were taken aback by the use of white in the show. They believed the work was commenting on race and exalting the European Standard of Beauty. These ladies focused more so on the color and its connotations versus the hypertrichosis, boxing gloves, and Victorian dress. On the flip side, I saw Meehan questioning white and the idea of purity. It never crossed my mind that she was exalting European Beauty. I saw the work technically beautiful but not “white is beautiful!”.  I posed the question “If you feel white is commenting on European Beauty, was she [Meehan] using black to comment on black or African beauty? I found their reaction and overall lack of ability to comment on “black beauty” interesting. Meehan used white glitter and a TON of black glitter. So was she saying, “Black is beautiful”? After they were unable to answer the last question, I posed another: “Is it possible to use colors such as black and white and not comment on race?”  They all answered in unison, “no”.

Thought No.2: Was she suppose to “get under my skin”? 

Obviously she succeeded! She raised every question that she possibly could concerning beauty and race. When associating Meehan with Matthew Barney, I think they [my Dog and Duck posse] expected to be disgusted by gruesome images and of course they were disappointed. Personally, why would you want to view art that looked like someone else?

Thought3:The ropes were an after thought! I saw it as  Matthew Barney meets Kara Walker meets Ellen Gallagher??

I can see why they thought the black boxing ropes  were an afterthought, but I had to disagree. Meehan utilized the upper right corner of the gallery, by attaching the ropes from one wall to the other consequently roping off the corner. The ropes also complimented the opposing lower left hand corner that housed the glittered black boxing bag and hanging light bulbs. I found the ropes, The drawings and  the glittered punching bags to be the most effective pieces.  Meehan took  strong, “manly” objects and transformed them into the epitome of Victorian delicacy and decoration and (lack of a better word) girly.

The photography, on the other hand, seemed to be a completely different body of work in comparison to the other works. They were all connected thematically and conceptually, however they felt like they were a completely different show. The photography lacked the hard edge that the other artworks retained regardless of the copious amounts of glitter and beauty. The photographs appear much like a visual narrative beginning with a pristine ethereal bearded woman that later goes through a brawl. Although the figure was bleeding it had a different type of beauty to her that was not shared by the other works. Maybe it was the extreme use of white in contrast to all the black, but I’m not sure I’m buying that either. I think, they were 2 different bodies of work…. Good bodies of work but different nonetheless.

Lastly, I understood why my fellow Dos Equis drinkers associated Meehan with Walker, Gallagher and Barney. Walker and Gallagher are also female artists using the contrasting colors black and white to comment on beauty and race. Meehan’s drawings “The Barnburners” are very reminiscent of Gallagher’s etchings “DeLuxe”. Her Victorian motif and medical anomalies are aligned with Walker and Barney’s work. The association of Meehan’s work to these artists are strictly on a surface level, but that’s inevitable.

 

I enjoyed the show. As I said before, Meehan is the only artist I’ve seen so far use the space at women and their work effectively. People navigated throughout the small gallery comfortably and were able to focus on the work and socialize. All in all, Meehan’s show is a success. Although there were many thoughts that circulated at Dog and Duck over a few pitcher of beer, they were all questions that I believe Meehan intended to raise.

Black Art in Austin??

After a long day of painting followed by many hours of not painting and talking about painting, I’ve decided to give the brush a rest and give the keyboard a try. After a nice critique in my painting class I went to the library to research. PAUSE. All artists must research. If you are one of those artists who does not research, you will never make it. There is no shame in learning from the past. PLAY. At the library, I noticed that not many black artists are present outside of the big hitters. The big hitters are Mark Bradford, Kerry James Marshall, Michale Ray Charles, Kara Walker, Romare Bearden, Ellen Gallagher, you see where I’m headed. Art 21 artists, MacArthur Genius recipients, censored or banned from showing in their hometowns were the artists that had the pleasure of being in the library. What happened to John Biggers? Tanner? Savage?White?Catlett? Why aren’t these artists present? Why are the big hitters all about race? Not to say that race isn’t valid, but what is being communicated when a young artist wants to research black contemporary artists and all he/she can find are artists commenting on race in America? Does one not exist without the other?  Questions upon questions continue to surface as I punch away at the keys. Does any of this mean anything?? Am I over thinking it? Did I spend too much time in Chicago, Atlanta and NYC?? As an African American artist, I would like to see more art from women and men of color. Yes, at the current moment the Blanton Museum of Art has a fantastic exhibition of El Anatsui (a Ghanian artist who teaches, works, and lives in Nigeria) and people flock to his show. They flock because there is NOTHING showing in Austin remotely like his work. Not because he’s Ghanian but because it’s different. Much of Austin art scene is beginning to look the same. “Abstract”, brightly colored, Geometric…. Weird. Not inspiring…but maybe that is found in all cities to an extent. Maybe I’ve been going to the wrong galleries.I want more variety. Maybe the lack of material in the library was a jumping point for just that. Variety! I want more artists like Miguel Aragon and Jason Villegas and less 1980’s meets Acrylic.

I’m a little tired, hence the rattling of questions.But I’ve raised a valid question that I’ve even opened to friends. Is it possible to be an African American artist and not comment about race?? I’ve asked a number of people, emerging artists, Art critics, big hitters and more. The answer was the same…No, it is not possible.

TINY PARK: THE HOME GALLERY OF AUSTIN

The latest visual arts venue to grace Austin with its presence is a small house gallery organized by Brian Wiley and Thao Votang. Over the years, “house shows” have acquired a bad reputation. They typically lack the proper lighting, space organization and overall rarely achieve a decent balance between home space and gallery space. However, Tiny Park epitomizes a home that is a gallery.

            Tiny’s inaugural exhibition featured an interactive installation, FEAR by Deborah Stratman and prints by UT grad student, Miguel Aragon. The small home turned gallery evokes awe upon crossing the threshold. Aragon’s work inhabits the main space of the home gallery. His prints are beautiful, ethereal, ghostly and violent. His prints are appropriated images of extreme drug war violence from the daily newspaper in his hometown of Juarez, Mexico. Aragon abstracts images into fragments that are reminiscent of shattered glass. And just like shattered glass, strewn about on the kitchen floor; we automatically begin to piece it back together again. While viewing his work, we mentally fill in the various spaces that the artists intentionally left blank. Every cut, burn, and imprints of the page is symbolic to the division, violence, and sadness that plagues Juarez on a daily basis. Like a newspaper, we read Aragon’s prints from left to right. We become outsiders looking into a broken world that we mentally scotch tape back together.
            While Aragon’s violent yet ethereal prints greet the viewers at the front door, Stratman’s  FEAR installation is in a room located to the left of the main space. Inside the room is an old wooden desk, a chair, a desk lamp and a red telephone. Do not be fooled by the lack of decoration. Everyone in the entire home gallery is interacting with the piece whether they know it or not. Stratman’s installation asks viewers to sit at the desk and dial a “fear” hotline where you will then confess your greatest fears. Confessing fear appeared to be more intense and uncertain than any of the viewers anticipated. Not uncertain of the installation, but uncertain of whether or not you are heard. Questions race through your mind, what if someone hears me? Will I be laughed at? Is it safe? Can my voice be tracked??  Sitting at the desk, participants become engrossed in the realization that they are alone with their fears. The noise of lingering gallery visitors in the main space becomes a faint soundtrack in the background as you wrestle with yourself about whether or not to confess. And as you wrestle with your own demons you can’t help but read the small card on the desk next to the telephone: The more you desire safety the more there is to fear.

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