Blackness: Agency, Fluid, and Lasting – Toure

I’m going to do my best to put all this as clear as possible. It sounds great in my head.

Blackness. What does it mean to be a black person in America? Is there a set of rules that one must uphold? Why should we uphold those “unwritten” rules? Is every black person in risk of losing their “black cards” for “violations”? This class has been analyzing the different definitions and ways black people express themselves and do race. Is any of the above even relevant anymore? Questions were asked on whether all black people should always be political and uplift the race or can one just live. Toure’s book is that epiphany moment that one would hope for. He eloquently states the change(s) that have happened within the black community and identity. What he, and others in the book who were interviewed, did was put the black identity in relations to time. Toure connected the shifting of meaning over the past decades. This is about blackness, but more so, in my opinion, a historiography on blackness. Within this historiography, Toure gives the history of nigger/nigga, and motherfucker; both have great symbolism in the black community. Then, Toure outlines the “main” identities of blackness, the ones that are talked about the most and policed.

What is shown is a respect for the past history, but the realization, that many don’t feel the same as those who lived during a certain time, has greatly influenced how they think about being black. Black being an interest was a very unique way of putting how some of the artists saw themselves. An interest is something one could change, like a hobby. Yet, one’s skin color can’t be changed in that same context.Santigold said that her music was black, because she is black. (pg.54) This goes back to discussion we had in class about if something is black because the artist is black or because it includes aesthetics that are traditionally associated with black folk. Having both views on blackness has enabled many of those in the book the ability to define and expand blackness.

Toure hits the nail on the head in many areas. He and his colleagues tackle racial uplift vs. individuality over time. Racial uplift was the main theme in the articles we started off reading. Your love for your race was shown through your works, acts, and your voice. Everything should have a political meaning. However, even during those times, not all agreed with Wright, but wanted to create art and and other works for entertainment. During a time when many blacks were fighting negative stereotypes, racial uplift was seen as a priority. In his interviews, Toure shows that as times changes, so has blackness. This adaptability to its atmosphere, has enabled blackness to withstand many trials. Because of this, blackness is the best way to describe Black America. It’s a broad umbrella for many strains, which include different experiences.

Toure explores how there are many ways to use blackness in life. With this, the commonality of blackness is that society never lets your forget your blackness. Whether it’s by the hands of whites or other blacks, black folk are always reminded overtly or slyly of their otherness. Yet, as black folk, Toure states that they should be free to do blackness anyway they please and from their personal experiences.

The biggest thing that comes out of having individual views on blackness is agency. Because blackness is so fluid, it has resulted in greater agency for black folk. Yes, racism is still alive, and subtle, but post-Blackness moves past that. If blackness, now, is more about living one’s individual identity instead of one collective identity, then, that forty million ways to be black is forty million ways to exert agency and influence change. I appreciate the fact that this book disturbs the notion of being one and only kind of blackness. The complexity of identity is hard to grasp, thus, is the makeup of blackness. Understanding this is the only way to expand the progress and access black folk have. Next, this understanding will decrease, hopefully, the policing of how to do race. Toure and others in the book mention how the history of America and black folk isn’t going anywhere, so holding on to it isn’t as necessary. Respecting and knowing the history is more that using old methods of doing blackness that isn’t relevant to the times. It’s, also, better than letting it limit oneself, because “black folks don’t…”.

Toure implies that blackness being undefined is okay. Regardless, of the crossover or mash up of blackness with other things, blackness has never gone away; in a world that’s color struck, it may never disappear.

Toure’s book is something everyone should read. As a black woman, this, first, felt like a how to not give a damn, but still care, guide. His talk about his shield was extremely easy to relate to, as was his vernacular. His main audience is black people. Granted, this isn’t a how to book, it reads like one. Toure gives evidence why it’s okay for blackness to be complicated. Because of the muddiness of the definitions, black folk should do blackness their way. Second, this book educates on how subtle racism is. He gives numerous accounts to back up the new face of racism. Thirdly, Toure makes the personal political. I know he’s doing blackness the way he wants to, but there is still a stance on his decision to do that. This goes back to resisting previous notions from some of the older generations, but freeing the younger generation whose blackness may not look progressive. To say reading this book hasn’t made me take another look at how I view my blackness, wouldn’t be true. This book is a challenge to anybody who says they KNOW what blackness is…Because they really have no idea.

As much as I loved all the people he’s talked with, I do wish Toure had pulled a few working class people to talk to. I don’t know why he didn’t but it would have solidified this book even more. As much as I believe many, if not all, the people interviewed, can speak on working class life styles, no one does it better than the ones still in the working class. Then, again, when you are writing a book, you only have so much room. This wish doesn’t diminish the fact that a lot of the people in the book had the rags to riches, hard work to the end journey in life. Nor does it take away any credibility from their knowledge of the working class. I was just wondering. I’ll be reading the bios on them again to make sure. Although, he may have chosen to show the diversity in the group by having those that aren’t from institutions of higher education, but still influential …I don’t know. Just thought, I’d throw that one out there, too. I have a thing for books that talk about the working class, but speak the language of the elite to the working class. Not a thing, it just irks me .I would love for many to read this, but I wonder, would other black folk, not in college, understand this?

Post-Black But Not So Clear Cut

Toure’s Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness attempts to take an analytical look at what it means to be Black in the era after civil rights.  To Toure, contemporary times have moved to a point of multiplicity of experience: there is no one right way to be Black (an argument Toure makes by drawing heavily on autobiographical information).  However, the complex understanding of Blackness Toure puts forth creates several points of tension within his argument.

One of those points is when Toure discusses the role of artists in a post-Black culture.  Black art is now defined by a kind of irreverence and emotional distance.  That is, for Toure artists like Kara Walker make use of irony in dealing with grave topics because the subject matter is no longer a direct lived reality (it’s been decades since slavery was around, so that’s fair game, but an ironic piece on Katrina is out of the question).  This stems from his concept of Blackness as an interest beyond a responsibility.  Artists don’t feel the need to force race issues down the throats of their audiences, and Blackness becomes a topic of pleasure and exploration.  This all sounds wonderfully progressive, but it seems to downplay the importance of art as a means of dealing with the reality of racism today. 

It’s a reality Toure acknowledges too, and one he expands by discussing the ways racism has evolved from pre-civil rights times to now.  Drawing on the interviews of 105 different figures of varying fields and lived experiences, Toure details several different direct experiences with the fears and damages of racism in America.  The overall theme is that, where racism was once acted on directly through segregation and violence performed by clear agents like the Ku Klux Klan, contemporary racism is a much more shadowy affair.  Indeed, the interviewers all made a point of saying they were probably never present for the most racist event in their lives, and it’s a logical point to make because contemporary society has put such a focus on not being racist that the lingering prejudices must be acted upon in secret, utilizing positions of power to marginalize others in more subtle ways like denying a bank loan.

Toure’s suggested response to racism is rather mixed, and honestly a point of confusion for me.  It seems to be a push toward individual perspective and action, but it relies at times on the notion of connectivity among Blacks.  He suggests on the one hand that Blacks work to build up a personal “shield,” to be resilient to racism and moments where others (even other Blacks) may question one’s Blackness.  In one moment, he claims that one must detach oneself from a more socially constructed identity (85).  This works in the short run to answer the issue of how to cope, but it seems to directly contradict Toure’s overarching notion of Blacks as communally connected.  It seems like a rather difficult balancing act to perform for someone to deeply internalize concepts of race as an individual yet still maintain some identification with other members of Blackness.  What’s also problematic about this concept is that Blackness is simultaneously something to be wielded and something self-defining.

In the end, I think I agree with most of what Toure is suggesting, but my agreement tends to be in isolated frames.  When all of these ideas are pieced together, the complicated cooperation seems not to function so well.  I also take some issue with Toure’s assertion that visual artists somehow have an easier time than musicians (it seems rather silly to suggest that having fewer pieces to sell is easier; wouldn’t those few need to be especially brilliant and well-placed to secure success?), and sometimes it seems like Toure has a bit of an exaggerated memory of his past.  However, the concept of Blackness moving to a point of agency in constructing America on a social and political level is something that seems powerful and necessary.

–Daniel Price

Toure and the Roots

I’m actually working somewhat with Touré for my final paper for this class, so I am glad that we will be discussing him in our last class tomorrow. I figured that I would share some of what I have thought about for this paper since it relates to what we should be talking about in class (it’s also a good way to get some of my ideas out there and make sure that they are cogent before I turn in the paper!). In his book Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackess? What It Means to Be Black Now, Touré tries to make sense of the “post-black condition,” referring to the confusion about what “being black” really means and how one should perform this blackness; and, since there are so many different ideas about how to perform blackness, there is now no accepted conclusion about what it should be. One of Touré’s goals, then, is “to attack and destroy the idea that there is a correct or legitimate way of doing blackness.”

 

Touré’s argument provides liberation for all African-Americans, especially artists who might feel obligated to represent the black race in their art. According to Touré, however, these obligations no longer exist. And if artists do want to explore black themes, they do not have to approach those themes with the same reverence as a black artist would during the Civil Rights era. As one New York Times writer puts it, “Indeed, when they do explore black themes, as most still do, they feel at liberty to be irreverent and humorous.”
While his book may be a welcome sight for black artists, Touré can be frustrating for all blacks who are wondering if there is anything remaining that is unique about their race. Additionally, Touré is equally problematic for literary critics who want to determine if there is still any consistency in black aesthetics. I consider this problem of consistency by focusing primarily one hip-hop group in my final paper: The Roots, a group that has received little to no attention from critics in recent hip-hop scholarship. While we certainly can classify The Roots in the general category of hip-hop, “conscious rap” is a more precise term that describes their music. Conscious rap is rap that is socially aware and deliberately “connected to historic patterns of political protest and aligned with progressive forces of social critique.” Most hip-hop scholars recognize that this sub-genre first emerged in the late 80s and early 90s with groups like Public Enemy and KRS-One. Unlike Public Enemy, Tupac, and other controversial hip-hop groups and artists from the late 80s and all throughout the 90s, The Roots succeed at creating this conscious rap without stirring up too much controversy.

 

By examining and closely reading a few songs from their 2006 album Game Theory, I argue in my paper that the political commentary and social critiques of The Roots has its own roots in the Black Arts Movements of the 1960s and 70s and the conscious hip-hop of the late 80s and 90s. Ultimately, the overarching argument of this paper is that even though we might be living in a “post-black” world, The Roots’ political commentary shows that there are still some consistencies in black aesthetics that range from the 1960s and 70s to the first decade of the twenty-first century.

How different is this?

All semester, we have been examining how Blackness is represented and how we can define it and our last reading assignment is a good way to bring us back to the questions that we’ve been addressing all along.  In Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?,  Touré also examines these questions as well as other ones related to them.  He looks at how Blackness in America today is a varied and individual trait.  We cannot define it for each other.

Touré uses the responses of 105 people to come to the conclusions that he does.  He talks to artists, politicians, academics, etc. as he works to figure out what Blackness is and he uses a variety of examples and experiences to support his points. These examples and experiences add power to his argument and show that Blackness has changed over time and it is not something that a person can define for someone else.

The idea that there is no single answer to the question of what is Black seemed especially clear to me last week when we looked at the visual art.  Each of those artists used completely different means to represent their own views of culture and/or history.  These artists showed a varied picture of the African American experience, indicating that there is not one single experience that everyone shares.  Touré discusses Glen Ligon and Thelma Golden in his book (necessarily since they introduced the term Post-Blackness in reference to modern art, and he sought permission to expand the term to culture in general).   He also discusses Kara Walker and Rashid Johnson. These artists present varied views of the African-American experience.  Walker’s use of the cyclorama and silhouette to depict images of slavery complicates the view of the form.  She also complicates the view of slavery by depicting multiple types of scenes and many types of people, including African-Americans in highly stereotypical forms.  This type of representation would not be particularly successful in the earlier days of the 20th century when African American artists were expected to present only positive images that would further the race.

While these artists and others (especially Dave Chappelle) are important to Touré’s argument, they are secondary to the more personal discussions of what it means to be Black in today’s society.  Of course, Touré does not really offer a representation of an African American living a fairly average life; instead, he focuses on definitely advanced people.  Despite the fact that the artists he discusses do not follow the views of the early 20th century, he does in his own work (except for the man on death row, although he is also a journalist).  Through the biography section at the end of the book, we see a lot of “Dr.” or “most influential” or “executive” or “activist” or other references to political positions.  These are not every day people that we will meet on the street.  Of course, Touré’s point is that there are a variety of experiences, but he never says that he is attempting to present an accurate representation of those experiences.  He is successful, I think, in showing that there is a variety of experience.  We see urban examples and rural; we see violence and inactivity; we see issues with white people and with other black people.   There are wide varieties, except for one point.  They aren’t mechanics and hair dressers and receptionists and cabbies.   Each of these people end up doing something extraordinary.

Touré seems to be arguing something I already agreed with (that there is not a single Black experience/culture) and that we’d seen represented in the works we’d already looked at.  The poetry collections offered different views of society.  The short story collections showed different experiences again.  Then we have Pym and Where Did You Sleep Last Night?  that don’t seem to fit with any other item.  However, the weakness that Touré’s argument suffers most from is that he does not really represent the wide variety of experience that can occur.  Instead, he focuses on his own narrow view of experience which then somewhat makes him guilty of what he is arguing against.

–Erin Bistline

Toure and Post-Blackness

Like my last few posts, I have not developed a significant thesis around Toure’s book for this week. Instead, I’ll discuss some of my observations about the text.

Toure uses many personal anecdotes in this book. He does a good job of making the personal political. I think his use of his own anecdotes and those told to him by others make the reader see how Black identity and racism has affected people at the individual level.  If he had not used these personal anecdotes, I think it would have been harder to grasp onto what he means by Post-Blackness and why it’s important to understand in identity.

In his first chapter, Toure credits Thelma Golden and Glen Ligon with coining the term “post-Blackness”  When he asks her if he could apply her concept to all Black people, it seems that Golden was hesitant. I think I understand why. It’s difficult to make a generalization about an entire culture. It’s also difficult to delineate what exactly Black culture is and where it ends. I think that’s why Toure includes a long list of questions he poses in this chapter.  Toure dedicates his book to “everyone who was ever made to feel ‘not Black enough.’ Whatever that means.”  Toure investigates this more in his chapter “Shut Up, Toure! You Ain’t Black!” (Love the title)

After Toure is told he isn’t “Black,” he’s hurt and contemplates what this really means to him: Why was I working to reject being defined by the white gaze but not also working to reject definition by the Black gaze?” (97) I think the problem here is understanding exactly what the “Black gaze” is.  Here’s an anecdote that might help:

TFA (Teach for America) prides themselves in sending White middle class inexperienced teachers to low performing schools with children whose families have lower economic status: White privileged teachers and poor children of color, what could go wrong there? Alot.  So, the most common thing I heard from literally 90% of these teachers was, “These kids don’t want to learn. They don’t care about school. It’s not important to them.”

Here’s the problem.  In terms of poor Mexican students in the U.S., they have learned that education is not for them….it is for White people.  Who taught them that? Their culture. Chicano culture often rejects education because it is a White space. If it is a White space they want nothing to do with it because they are not White.  But wait, there’s more.  While teachers blame the children and their culture, they refuse (or are ignorant) to look at the larger picture: Who first deemed education a White space? Not Chicanos. Chicanos were rejected and refused education by a largely Anglo American population. They learned then that they did not “deserve” education.

So this is why I find Toure’s statements a bit problematic at times. While I think his overarching thesis questions who defined Blackness (and thus, criticizes America), I think that, at times, he blames Black people a bit too much in the present.

-Monica Montelongo

Museums, Walker, and Gatson

Visual culture finds its way into my work all the time. I think it’s just because the first narratives we learn—or at least I can remember—are visual ones.  I will discuss a few different topics in this post, first being the subject of museums.

Thelma Golden asks an important question in her lecture: “Can a museum be a catalyst in a community?”  This is a complicated question, with a complicated answer. I think it all depends on the type of community.  The museum, above all, is a learning space. However, like many learning spaces, museums are often “white spaces” as well.  Interestingly, Golden says she wants to make the museum a “white” space—however, I think she means an open and welcoming space, rather than the racial implications that I have inserted. I think it was an interesting choice of words though. Who does the museum belong to? How does the museum operate in a community? How does the community know that it is welcomed to the museum?  Museums are racialized and class-driven spaces—middle class spaces.  I think Golden’s goal is to reimagine the museum space. She says she is attempting to re-invent the museum as a think tank.  While I agree this is something that can turn what current museum-goers think of this space, how do you attract a community? How do you make the museum a place for everyone?  I have mixed feelings about museums. I love them. But, truthfully, they feel “fake” and too related to status.  I’ve tended to like murals—community murals—a bit more. Murals on buildings are for the community. They serve a purpose for that specific community, and they are actually SEEN by that community.  (Disclaimer: I am not saying let’s get rid of all the museums. They are important space as well.)

Kara Walker’s pieces works well in the museum setting. Her cyclorama and cut-paper silhouettes challenge our notions of technique, material, and content.  I think her cyclorama is the most impressive.  She is able to challenge past, present, and future by distorting where the viewer begins the piece and where it ends.  I also found her re-appropriation of the silhouette to be interesting. She contests the historical privilege associated with this medium and uses it to re-write history.

Finally, I think my favorite pieces this week were Rico Gatson’s. The use of popular film and the kaleidoscope effect was both distorting and aesthetically pleasing.  There was something familiar and unfamiliar about his pieces—making them uncanny and eerie. I like Gatson’s use of the film “Alien” in “Departure.” It was reminiscent of Afrofuturism and maintained a disorienting and haunting quality. Gatson is able to create monstrous images that conflate the white female (human) with the alien.  This doubling/mirroring he uses in his pieces works best in “Departure” and “Jungle Jungle.”

-Monica Montelongo

Swag and other

I won’t start off saying that I didn’t like some of the art, but some of it was very unnerving.

Gatson’s work was confusing. I found myself struggling to look at one corner of his videos so I could make out what was going on. That didn’t work out so well. Had it not been for that one article we had, I wouldn’t have even guessed Pam Grier shooting in a kaleidoscope video had more meaning. I did notice that most of them had to do with women. Departure and Jungle Jungle had a white woman surrounded by blackness; whether it was the black savages or the darkness, it engulfed the women. In a sense, it could be enacting the worst fear of white people; white women being over taken by blackness. If that’s the case, I have just given an interpretation of art! When I saw Pam Grier, I was more concerned on if Foxy got shot or not when watching the video.

Now to the video that really got to me. I really do like the fact that Rashad Newsome has the royalty aspect to his art involving African American people. On the other hand, Newsome critiqued the black community as much as he was…uplifting…the community. With the stills, the details to the frames were awesome. There was a lot of jewelry used, but what made me think that he is critiquing the community is the way he sets the pictures. He put skulls in two or three of them. (Saltire Compton , What’s Beef, Black and Yellow, and maybe Baptism) I took those as Newsome eluding to the fact that all the gain of riches could kill. However, if he’s trying to show his status using his art, isn’t that a contradiction? So, I’m not sure what he’s really getting at. Why would he put a skull in something that shows status and a sense of royalty. I didn’t notice the skulls until I actually noticed it in the last one. I went back through all of them to see if I missed skulls in the other ones.

Swag the Mixtape

This Mixtape right here!!!! Okay… Rain Has Fallen  is scary as hell. Period. Thinking more about it now…I find it fascinating too. Here is why. So whipping one’s hair for black women showed off their hair, its “good” texture, and or length. It made me think of an AKA (a woman in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.) gone WILD. No offense to the women in that great organization…It made me think of that because that is one of their signature moves ( that I’ve seen); I maybe wrong. With talking about status in Newsome’s work, this make showing off one’s hair disturbing. I still wonder, is this his critique of black culture?? Hair is such a big aspect of black women’s lives. (If one tells you it isn’t…I’m not sure I’d believe it.) A lot of my friends of mine might find this segment scary. Dance of the Succubus was eerie. The girl is covered in gold, as if to put the black female body in your face (and the legs in the background). Her dancing isn’t what, as a black person, I’d think of. It’s more modern, contemporary, or experimental. The background voice kept saying ” Get your ass out there…” (I couldn’t decipher the rest). I liked this because he gave the black female body royalty and status. Kind of restoring the respect to the sexuality of black women. (Fist Pump). Grand Duchess of Gainsville took this restoring the black female body by making a black woman queen. At the same time, the women were sensual. Their sexuality wasn’t scary or vulgar.

It’s crazy that I’m putting all this about Newsome’s work, because last night, I refused to watch Rain Has Fallen for a second time to analyze it. That’s how uncomfortable it made me feel. I believe, like Dorothy Roberts, that discomfort in all the artwork we looked at is essential to birthing dialogue about the culture. It is true, artwork gives a different view and interpretation on what the society, media, and etc. does. Looking back, it’s easier too think about what the artists are trying to say. Because my interests lies with looking at the black female body and how it’s portrayed, these artists were right up my alley. I’ll probably have more to say in class.

Benita

Might as well post a video link so you know what I mean by the AKA’s swinging their hair.

http://youtu.be/58dVWSwZuVY This 3 minute and 30 seconds shows multiple times how they shake their hair.

Art

I had a particularly horrible experience in my undergraduate art history class because I could not write interpretive essays about art. That’s not to say that I do not enjoy art or anything; to the contrary, I enjoy looking at art very much. I just have a very difficult time describing art, interpreting it, and developing an argument in support of that interpretation. Most of the time I struggle with something to say that is more compelling than “It looks nice.” I think I understand how some students feel when they have to do close readings of poetry. Now that this disclaimer is out of the way, let’s discuss some of this art, shall we?

The kaleidoscopic pieces stood out to me the  most, likely because they were so trippy and, at times, eerie. Rico Gatson’s Gun Play fits into both of these categories. Actual kaleidoscopes operate on multiple reflections with several mirrors. As the user looks into one end, the light entering the other creates a colorful patter due to the reflection of the mirrors. Kaleidoscopes are supposed to reflect  beautiful images of light and color back to the viewer, but Gaston’s kaledoscopic art subverts this notion. True, there are some pretty colors in the background of Gun Play, but the images of violence from the blaxpoitation and spaghetti westerns overshadow any of the sparse beauty that we might be able to find in the video.

That Gatson combines scenes from these two genres in the kaleidoscopic genre of art has to be significant. Blaxploitation films are movies from the 1970s that portrayed the lives of African-American drug dealers, pimps, hit men, etc. often in a glorified, sympathetic manner. Many use the term “blaxpoitation” because they believe that these films stereotyped black people in films, thus exploiting them. Ironically, white studios were the ones producing most of these films, not black studios. Spaghetti westerns, on the other hand, were targetted primarily at white audiences and are so named because they are westerns that were directed and produced mostly by Italians. Like the blaxpoitation films, many spaghetti westerns rely more on action and violence and less on dialogue and character development (that is not to say that there is no dialogue and character development in any of these films, though).

I think that Gatson mashes many of these films together to show just how violent these films can be. More importantly, I think that Gatson is questioning what kinds of values these films are supposed to instill. Even though both genres are films are clearly marketed towards specific racial audiences, both genres of film glorify violence and have the same ostensible messages. Throughout most of the video, there is a constant, uncomfortable drone of human pain and agony that is often accompanied by gun shots and scenes of people being killed in these films. I agree with the side description on the webpage in which this video is hosted: “How easy is it to expose the perversity of the violence of these texts?” Admittedly, I do enjoy violent films at times, yet I understand that is often very difficult to get people to think about the implications of the violence that they are watching. I think that some good, “smart” movies and TV shows (like The Sopranos) do intentionally try to make the viewers understand the dire reprecussions of violence, but many violent films like the blaxpoitation films and spaghetti westerns don’t do this. I believe that Gatson has the same purpose here: next time we are viewing a violent film or TV show, we should ask ourselves if the filmmakers are trying to make a compelling statement with that violence or if they are simply displaying violence for violence’s sake.

Multiplicity and Controversy in Black Art

Looking at the variety of artists for this week, one can see the truth to Thelma Golden’s claim that the museum can be a space for the complex dialogue art displays.  The multiplicity of techniques, media, and themes in artists like Kara Walker and Rashaad Newsome captures this pretty obviously.  Though, the complexity of the dialogue seems to show the same tension with African American identity and the role of art that has been the focus of this course with artists like Walker being incredibly meticulous and aware of the political implications and cultural legacy of the art created and artists like Newsome being more content to celebrate the creative aspects of black identity.

The variety of ideas and forms of art in these artists is striking.  Rico Gatson’s use of old film clips multiplied and morphing into a center point creates a dizzying spectacle.  Glenn Ligon’s mix of light fixtures and written type provides an interesting perspective on light and dark in space and script.  Walker’s art in particular embodies this variety.  While she maintains the use of some traditional art forms like painting, Walker also makes the move to reclaim paper silhouette usage as an art form and at times displays her pieces in cycloramas, surrounding the viewer in the art.  Within her various pieces, Walker also delves into several different issues of African American culture heritage and current realities like race and manipulation of the truth.  Newsome’s use of collage, video, and performance in his art also speaks to variety, and his search for and celebration of black urban royalty is certainly different than Walker’s focus on the horrors of slavery and the lasting impact of that history.

Indeed, such difference in themes speaks to the differences in opinions on art’s purpose we have been considering all along.  Walker’s art certainly follows in line with a highly politicized view of art.  Her use of silhouetting works in both positive and negative ways to look at racial stereotypes.  These pieces work negatively in the sense that they strip away color and specific facial features by being entirely black (rendering even white figures as black on some level), and they work positively by shifting the focus to the exaggerated shapes the silhouettes outline ( large lips or tendrils for black characters or less exaggerated features for white characters).  Walker’s art works to show a kind of play between white and black that is reminiscent of the arguments Kevin Young makes in The Grey Album, suggesting that the two colors and races feed into as much as contrast each other. 

However, there may still be a fear that some artists are not political enough.  Ken Johnson’s article on Sanford Biggers’s exhibition is particularly critical of the fact that the art doesn’t work toward enough of a darker aspect that some of the pieces hint at.  That is, while Biggers may be using pieces like Cheshire to make a statement against racial stereotypes like the ones embodied in minstrelsy shows, perhaps he should go further to disorient his audience and force them to focus on the darker realities informing African American identity.  Johnson specifically compares Biggers’s work to Walker’s work in this discussion, probably hinting at the ways Walker’s pieces may somewhat assault the viewer with things like physicality or the challenge of figuring out what is an accurate portrayal of the past and what isn’t.  Rashaad Newsome’s work may also fall under the category of “not political enough.”  From the pieces we read, he seems to have received largely positive reviews, but his work does not make moves to look toward a black past.  Rather, he works to align concepts of baroque aristocracy with contemporary hip-hop culture.  This blending of white high art and black pop art is certainly interesting and a move that reminds me, again, of Young’s argument on the nature of storying and remixing in black culture and art.  In fact, even Newsome’s media are testaments to this because of the use of collaged magazine clippings within decorative frames.  However, the end message doesn’t have the spark or darkness to it that something like Walker’s or Ligon’s work does.  Newsome’s work is seemingly entirely celebratory of the high points of black culture, creativity being a main focus.  In this way, artists like Newsome seem to be closer aligned with the argument Ralph Ellison was making by suggesting art can be more aesthetic and celebratory rather than purely and actively political. 

–Daniel Price

Many Arts

The art that we looked at this week is not work that I am used to studying.  Some of the work was very interesting.  There are a variety of types of art and a lot of multimodal work.   These artists are presenting views of life and culture through interactions between historical information/media and modern issues.

Rico Gatson and Rashaad Newsome use video in their art.   Gatson uses movies to present his ideas while Newsome focuses on music with his own video added.   The two artists blend different situations/arts to enhance the juxtaposition. Gatson creates a visual intersection with different movies (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Foxy Brown in Gun Play), but he also creates that intersection using the editing (which I cannot name).

Newsome also does this in another way, as does Kara Walker. Kara Walker’s exhibition presents silhouettes of various figures depicting life in exaggerated terms.  Walker uses a medium common in the 1800s to present her art.  Rashaad Newsome also uses a historical medium to present his artistic argument.  He focuses on heraldry as he examines what is favored in society today.  His collages use images of items connected to position and success.

The two artists create a pressure between the historical situation of the form they use and the issues they comment on.  Newsome aligns the culture of hip hop and rap to the earlier possession/status obsessed culture that created and used heraldry.  His collages present overly commercial and materialistic views of what is important to rap culture.  The alignment of the modern culture and the historical artistic form adds a legitimacy to the modern culture.  However, I didn’t see this throughout the artistic representations we looked at.

The variety of artistic representations were interesting.  There were a lot of things going on with these representations, and that was made more clear by the many responses/discussions about the art connected to the websites that we looked at.  However, I could not really make any sort of cohesive statement about the art that we looked at.  The interplay of the historical and the modern was interesting in Newsome and Walker’s work, but what are they saying about their topics?  I’m not sure.

While I looked at these over Thanksgiving, I struggled to come up with some idea to discuss here, and I really didn’t.  My friends joked about the juxtaposition of white and black in Sanford Biggers’s Blossom and in Kara Walker’s work, but that didn’t seem really significant.  What are these artists trying to say?  Maybe that there is room to explore.  There is not and cannot be  a single African American artistic expression.

–Erin Bistline

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