Tag Archives: art

Tonight! “Let Them Eat Cake: Art, Race, and Context” in DC & on Twitter

Arturo produced a great round up when the news of Makode Aj Linde’s cake hit the net. Now, Jess Solomon of The Saartjie Project (A theatre ensemble + creative tribe of women of the African Diaspora exploring race, gender and power through community-based action and cultural arts) wants to infuse that conversation with art and bring it into the real world.

Let them eat cake image

Let Them Eat Cake: Art, Race and Context? #LTEC

NEW LOCATION! Affinity Lab, 920 U St. NW (2 blocks from the U Street Metro – 10th St. exit, Green Line)

Let Them Eat Cake is a hybrid panel/performance/critical response informed by the photo of Swedish Minister of Culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth eating cake – made in the minstrel image of South African woman Saartjie Baartman – as part of a performance called “Painful Cake” by Makode Linde at World Art Day on April 15th at Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

LTEC is an interactive discussion featuring artists and media makers who examine race and gender:

Amber Robles-Gordon, Mixed Media Visual Artist
Dr. Arvenita Washington, Anthropologist
(added!) Ebony Golden, cultural worker, public scholar, conceptual performance artist
Latoya Peterson, Racialicious
Margaux Delotte-Bennett, Performance Artist
Renina Jarmon, Scholar, Blogger, Model Minority
Wilmer Wilson IV, Performance Artist
Moderated by Jess Solomon, Founder, The Saartjie Project

As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of Saartjie Baartman’s final homecoming, her body is still (symbolically) at the center of what has become a global discourse.

About Saartjie Baartman: Saartjie (pronounced Sar-Key) was a 19th century enslaved South African woman put on display as entertainment throughout Europe because of what the medical and scientific establishment regarded as her exceptional bodily form: protruding buttocks and an elongated labia.

Baartman was “exhibited” in London and throughout Europe under the show name Hottentot Venus (even after the abolition of the slave trade in London) from 1810 – 1815. She was also the subject of several scientific paintings and studies. When Baartman died in 1815, and her body was dissected in public, genitals and brain preserved and put on display at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris until 1997. After much political discourse over who she “belonged” to, her remains were repatriated to South Africa at the request of President Nelson Mandela on May 2, 2002.

LTEC explores:

Cultural and social implications of exploring race and gender as artists of color;
The extent and validity of “artistic license” and;
Significance of audience interpretation and reaction in their own work as well as that of Makode Linde;
Role of the media as cultural critics and tastemakers.

LTEC is on the visionary end of the spectrum and intended to bring both local creative consumers and cultural producers together to further understand how they inform each other.
Join in the discussion on Twitter: #LTEC
***

Special thanks for promotional support by Live Unchained, an international arts events and media organization featuring black women’s works.

Since this is an avant-garde kinda thing (complete with performances), I’m not preparing remarks but I will probably reference these posts:

Background Color, by Mimi Thi Nguyen of Threadbared
Background Color, Redux II, in which Mimi owns some fool that challenged her art cred
The Thin Line Between Art and Exploitation, when I took a look at the relationship between Kanye West & Vanessa Beecroft

I never wrote about the Runway video, but I may talk about that as well…

Hope to see you there!

Quoted: Jaswinder Bolina on Poetry, and Writing Through Identity

Carrier Wave, Jaswinder Bolina

[Back then, I was] only a year or so into an MFA. I stop by the office of a friend, an older white poet in my department. Publication to me feels impossible then, and the friend means to be encouraging when he says, “With a name like Jaswinder Bolina, you could publish plenty of poems right now if you wrote about the first-generation, minority stuff. What I admire is that you don’t write that kind of poetry.” He’s right. I don’t write “that kind” of poetry. To him, this is upstanding, correct, what a poet ought to do. It’s indicative of a vigor exceeding that of other minority poets come calling. It turns out I’m a hard worker too. I should be offended—if not for myself, then on behalf of writers who do take on the difficult subject of minority experience in their poetry—but I understand that my friend means no ill by it. To his mind, embracing my difference would open editorial inboxes, but knowing that I tend to eschew/exclude/deny “that kind” of subject in my poetry, he adds, “This’ll make it harder for you.” When, only a few months later, my father—who’s never read my poems, whose fine but mostly functional knowledge of English makes the diction and syntax of my work difficult to follow, who doesn’t know anything of the themes or subjects of my poetry—tells me to use another name, he’s encouraging also. He means: Let them think you’re a white guy. This will make it easier for you. [...]

To the poet, though, the first question isn’t one of class or color. The first question is a question of language. Poetry—as Stéphane Mallarmé famously tells the painter and hapless would-be poet Edgar Degas—is made of words, not ideas. However, to the poet of color or the female poet, to the gay or transgendered writer in America, and even to the white male writer born outside of socioeconomic privilege, a difficult question arises: “Whose language is it?” Where the history of academic and cultural institutions is so dominated by white men of means, “high” language necessarily comes to mean the language of whiteness and a largely wealthy, heteronormative maleness at that. The minority poet seeking entry into the academy and its canon finds that her language is deracialized/sexualized/gendered/classed at the outset. In trafficking in “high” English, writers other than educated, straight, white, male ones of privilege choose to become versed in a language that doesn’t intrinsically or historically coincide with perceptions of their identities. It’s true that minority poets are permitted to bring alternative vernaculars into our work. Poets from William Wordsworth in the preface to Lyrical Ballads to Frank O’Hara in his “Personism: a manifesto” demand as much by insisting that poetry incorporate language nearer to conversational speech than anything overly elevated. Such calls for expansions of literary language in conjunction with continuing experiments by recent generations of American poets are transforming the canon for sure, but this leaves me and perhaps others like me in a slightly awkward position. I don’t possess a vernacular English that’s significantly different from that of plain old Midwestern English. As such, it seems I’m able to write from a perspective that doesn’t address certain realities about myself, and this makes me queasy as anything. The voice in my head is annoyed with the voice in my writing. The voice in my head says I’m disregarding difference, and this feels like a denial of self, of reality, of a basic truth.

It isn’t exactly intentional. It’s a product of being privileged. In the 46 years since my father left Punjab, the 40 or so years since my mother left also, my parents clambered the socioeconomic ladder with a fair amount of middle-class success. We’re not exactly wealthy, but I do wind up in prep school instead of the public high school, which only isolates me further from those with a shared racial identity. Later I attend university, where I’m permitted by my parents’ successes to study the subjects I want to study rather than those that might guarantee future wealth. I don’t need to become a doctor or a lawyer to support the clan. I get to major in philosophy and later attend graduate school in creative writing. Through all of this, though I experience occasional instances of bigotry while walking down streets or in bars, and though I study in programs where I’m often one of only two or three students of color, my racial identity is generally overlooked or disregarded by those around me. I’ve become so adept in the language and culture of the academy that on more than one occasion when I bring up the fact of my race, colleagues reply with some variation of “I don’t think of you as a minority.” Or, as a cousin who’s known me since infancy jokes, “You’re not a minority. You’re just a white guy with a tan.” What she means is that my assimilation is complete. But she can’t be correct. Race is simply too essential to the American experience to ever be entirely overlooked. As such, I can’t actually write like a white guy any more than I can revise my skin color. This, however, doesn’t change the fact that if a reader were to encounter much of my work not knowing my name or having seen a photograph of me, she might not be faulted for incorrectly assigning the poems a white racial identity. This is a product of my language, which is a product of my education, which is a product of the socioeconomic privilege afforded by my parents’ successes. The product of all those factors together is that the writing—this essay included—can’t seem to help sounding white.

— Excerpted from “Writing Like a White Guy,” by Jaswinder Bolina, originally published at The Poetry Foundation

On Racism, Theater, and Trouble In Mind [Culturelicious]

Trouble in Mind

I’ve been to a great many plays on race. Some, like August Wilson’s Jitney, manage to survive through the ages and provide a stunningly timeless view on the problems of the colorline.

Others, like David Mamet’s Race or Neil Labute’s This Is How It Goes, make me realize how much of an abstract concept racism’s pervasiveness can be for white people. Unfortunately, much of the mainstream art world is controlled by white people, and therefore what is considered worthy of production is shaped by white perceptions.

Trouble in Mind has been resurrected, but there are always complications. Over at the Arena Stage website, Irene Lewis speaks to the cause of the persistent racial gap in evaluation of material:

For years, the play Trouble in Mind, by African-American playwright Alice Childress, was recommended to me as a show that, as artistic director of CENTERSTAGE, I should produce. I had read the play several times over the years and found it to be “old-fashioned/old hat,” especially concerning the depiction of the character of the white director. Finally, I decided to ask the opinion of an African-American actress whose judgment I have always valued. She read the play and told me that she liked it. When I asked if she found the role of the white director dated and unbelievable, she said, “No.” So I came around to the opinion that this was another case of – what should I call it – whites (me) being “out of touch” with the experiences of African-Americans. I decided to produce and direct the play at CENTERSTAGE in Baltimore. It subsequently transferred to Yale Repertory Theater. I am delighted that Molly is bringing this groundbreaking piece to Arena Stage.

“Out of touch” is the last term I would use to describe Childress’ noted work, considering it was originally performed in 1955. Considering the play was created more than five decades ago, it should not be so fresh and contemporary. And yet, we live in an era in which a white woman’s tale about a white woman and the black maids she liberated swept the bestseller’s list and the box office – clearly, things haven’t changed that much. So why the disconnect between black and white theater aficionados? As Childress herself has stated:

“There aren’t any black critics who can close a white play. But in black theater, black experience has been fought against by white critics. The white critic feels no obligation to prepare himself to judge a black play.”

And so, here we are. Continue reading

Quoted (Double Edition): Erykah Badu on Female Sexuality and Emotions

When Erykah Badu walked naked for 13 seconds (when the video was shot, she had the full song sped up to one minute and 32 seconds, then slowed back down in editing), it was for her art and not sexual consumption. It’s a stance she feels contributed to the outrage. “We’re just not fashioned for [nudity],” says Badu. “Especially the Black women, the ‘Hottentot Venus’ women, big-booty women, the large posterior, with no shoes on and a scarf on her head, you know that ain’t sexy.” [...]

“Society has a problem with female nudity when it is not . . . ”—Badu pauses to get her words together; she wants this point to be very clear—“. . . when it is not packaged for the consumption of male entertainment. Then it becomes confusing.” [...]

“To me it’s like traditional performance art like Yoko Ono, or Nina Simone. Research some of those women. They all seem to live by the same theme: Well-behaved women rarely make history. Even looking at people like Harriet Tubman and those types of women. When you have strong convictions about something you know what you already gonna do. I look at some other videos. I’m not naming names, because I don’t want that to be mentioned. There is the thing with sexuality. I’m naked for 13 seconds, and these people are naked the whole time and gyrating and saying come “lick on my lollipop,” and “suck on my cinnamon roll,” and, you know, suggesting sex. People are uncomfortable with sexuality that’s not for male consumption. Could be ‘cause I did it in public too. Do you think people would have been complaining if I had on high-heel shoes?”

— From the June/July Vibe Cover Profile of Erykah Badu

Arise: Earlier, you called performance your therapy. Is performance how you deal with pain?

Erykah Badu: I accept pain as part of growing. Everyone goes through it. And in the process of it, it’s unpleasant, but I’m still peaceful and happy. Continue reading

Are E. Lynn, Hardy, McMillan & Perry creating art? Do they have to?

by Guest Contributor J. Smith, originally published at jbrotherlove

E. Lynn Harris, James Earl Hardy, Terry McMillan and Tyler Perry

Disclaimer: I’m not offering any real answers to “Do E. Lynn, Hardy, McMillan and Perry create art?” It’s a topic on my mind this morning. Robin Givhan at The Washington Post has a review of novel In My Father’s House, written by E. Lynn Harris before he died in 2009. It’s pretty brutal:

Let’s get this basic fact out of the way: This is not a well-written novel. E. Lynn Harris, who completed “In My Father’s House” before his death in 2009, does not have a poetic voice or even a particularly eloquent one. This is not a work of detail-oriented craftsmanship.

And that’s just the beginning.

The review goes on to call out Harris’ shallow character description and clumsy plot development. Frankly, these are things we’ve known for years. Like fellow black, gay writer James Earl Hardy and outspoken Terry McMillan, E. Lynn Harris spoke to a very specific reader. While the writing in these novels don’t challenge literary circles, they do speak to black female and gay communities longing for written representation.

Which is not to say I’m giving these types of work a “pass”. I was an early fan of E. Lynn Harris and James Earl Hardy simply because nobody was publishing contemporary work about black gay life in the mid-90s. By each of their third novel, the novelty wore off for me. Maybe I’m crazy, but I like my artist to expand as they continue to create; and possible help me to expand with them.

This point of view could be applied to Tyler Perry, as well. While his lack of skill seems blatantly obvious to me, the demand for his work is staggering. However, when a 30-minute cartoon can lampoon and sum up Perry’s plot devices in 15 seconds, you have to question how hard Perry is even trying to elevate his craft. Perhaps one issue is how Perry tries to do everything: write, direct, produce, act, etc. We’ll see when he puts his spin on somebody else’s work; namely Ntozake Shange‘s classic For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.

Yeah, I’m afraid.

However, I remember an interview with Questlove in which he said he doesn’t categorize music as good or bad anymore. The more important question is if the work is successful in meeting its intended goal/audience. I’ve started to allow that philosophy inform my own prejudices (if only to save my sanity). This is why my second question “Do they have to?” is as relevant to me as my first.

Musing on The Window Seat Video

by Guest Contributor Renina Jarmon (M.Dot), originally published at New Model Minority

Earlier today, I was on the phone with Bacon Grits, chit chatting, planning my outfit, my day, flirting, and he asked me I had seen the Window Seat video? I continued looking for my fuchsia leggings, turned it on, put him on speaker, and continued to chat. I sat down in front of the computer half way watching, listening, and then I noticed, “Erykah Badu is stripping?”

Then I tell him, wait, is she going to get naked?

He says, oh you haven’t seen it, wait until the end.

We both sat there quiet as I listened, and watched. Absorbed. Continue reading

Race, Gender, Art, and Yoko Ono

by Latoya Peterson

Bitch Magazine published an interesting piece called “Oh Yoko!: 20 Ways of Looking at an Art-World Icon.” There are 20 different takes on Yoko Ono’s body of work and perception in the media, many of which revolve around art and gender. Others dealt with race, self-perception, and darkness. Here are my favorites:

4. Offered Sacrifice
Back in the ’60s, I was peripherally involved in a Fluxus concert evening at the Carnegie Recital Hall in New York where Yoko did several pieces, [including] “Cut Piece.” People began lining up to cut little pieces of her skirt or sleeves or strands of hair as souvenirs, or artworks, if you prefer. Everybody was very respectful, [and] Yoko remained impassive, without any change of expression.

The atmosphere changed to dark and unpleasant when several young men who were obviously not members of the art community started taking off large parts of her skirt and sweater, disclosing her bra, and getting back on line after each of their cuts. They couldn’t stop laughing. I recall Carolee Schneemann going up to one of them and slapping him in the face, which didn’t faze him one bit. He was after Yoko—the offered sacrifice.

At the point where one of the grinning guys went towards her bra strap with the scissors, Yoko made a slight gesture towards the wings, and the curtain immediately closed on her before her breast could be revealed. The piece was over. Obviously, when you let the audience into the artwork, you can’t always predict the result.
—eleanor antin, performance artist, filmmaker, and installation artist

Continue reading

What Counts as “Indian Art?”

by Guest Contributor Gwen, originally published at Sociological Images

In the opening essay to the book Shared Visions: Native American Painters and Sculptors in the Twentieth Century, Rennard Strickland and Margaret Archuleta write,

J.J. Brody in his classic study, Indian Painters & White Patrons, identified the colonial nature of a patronage system that narrowly defined and dictated what was “Indian art”…It seems almost as if definitionally…that paintings by Indians can be considered only in a primitive, aboriginal context. (p. 9)

They discuss Oscar Howe:

…[he was] thwarted in developing new directions in painting and striving to break away from the old stereotypes limiting Indian art…one of Howe’s Cubist style paintings was rejected from the 1959 Indian Artists Annual because it was “non-Indian” and embodied a “non-traditional Indian style.” (p. 9)

Strickland and Archuleta quote a letter from Howe to a friend:

“There is much more to Indian Art, than pretty, stylized pictures…Are we to be held back forever with one phase of Indian painting…?” (p. 10)

One of Howe’s Cubist paintings:

What Strickland, Archuleta, and Howe (as well as other contributors to Shared Visions) are discussing is the pressure American Indian artists have often faced to create a certain type of art. This pressure may come from other Indians or from non-Indians. Non-Indians have often had significant power over Indian artists because of their role as benefactors (providing money for artists to attend The Studio at the Santa Fe Indian School, for instance) and because non-Indians are the majority of buyers of art created by American Indian artists. And benefactors and art collectors often have a certain idea of what “Indian art” is, which includes assumptions about both themes and styles. Specifically, they want “traditional” images that depict Native Americans in a pre-modern world, often including images of animals.

Continue reading