Tag Archives: artists of color

Postcolonial Thoughts: Martin Puryear “Passing through the color line” Part 1

by Christopher Hutchinson

Puryear

PBSArt21

The Museum of Modern Art presents a major exhibition of the sculpture of the acclaimed American artist Martin Puryear (b. 1941). The retrospective will feature approximately forty-five sculptures, following the development of Puryear’s artistic career over the last thirty years, from his first solo museum show in 1977 to the present day. Puryear began his career in the 1970s alongside other members of the Post-Minimalist generation. Working primarily in wood, he has maintained an unwavering commitment to manual skill and traditional building methods. His sculptures are rich with psychological and intellectual references, examining issues of identity, culture, and history. The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication illustrating all works in the exhibition, with additional reference illustrations of the artist’s works and other comparative material. http://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/28?locale=en

Western Bloodline

Without question Martin Puryear has secured his space in Western art as a master sculptor. He has been regarded by many as being among elite sculptors of any nationality. He has successfully transcended “race” and his work is received as purely art. Not art with an asterisk. Puryear achieved this without the implementation of overt ethnicity, sympathy and propaganda.

Puryear has lead by example the proof of how to be successful as an African American artist within the Western art rubric. Puryear is fully accepted into the Western art vernacular as if there was and is no difference between Africa and the West at all. He is neatly included in the “Post-Minimalist generation”. This is the smoothest transition into the Western academia by an African American artist to date. This rarity of smooth transition deserves an inquiry.

Martin Puryear Bower

Martin Puryear. Bower. 1980. Sitka spruce and pine, 64″ x 7′ 10 3/4″ x 26 5/8″ (162.6 x 240.7 x 67.6 cm). Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.Chttp://www.moma.org/d/assets/W1siZiIsIjIwMTUvMTAvMTQvMm80ZjF2dHg0b18xMzU2MS5qcGciXSxbInAiLCJjb252ZXJ0IiwiLXJlc2l6ZSAyMDAweDIwMDBcdTAwM0UiXV0/13561.jpg?sha=aa0796293d9d8397

Passing as an Artist

Passing: African Americans and other minorities were historically discriminated against in the U.S., so the fair-skinned offspring of whites and people of color often pretended to be white to take advantage of the opportunities that would’ve otherwise been denied to them. This practice is known as passing or passing for white. It often required individuals to leave their hometowns and family members behind to ensure that they’d never come across anyone who knew their true racial origins. http://racerelations.about.com/od/understandingrac1/g/Definition-Of-Passing.htm

Many young minority artists wish for the anonymity of Whiteness when it comes to their work. These artists crave a world where the artwork comes first before skin tone. Many of these artists will inevitably hatch a plan to make a beautiful exhibition and hire a White person to pretend to be them during the exhibition to attempt to get an honest response to the artwork, not skin tone then response and then eventually assumptions.

Many of these artists that begin down this path end up with work that no longer reflects them. They end up ghosts that produce pretty objects, objects that are manufactured by IKEA. Only focused on commercial success. Wanting to “pass” is a dangerous proposition that could consume your entire artistic practice.

Puryear’s work begins at an authentic African place and has succeeded in “passing”-Why and how? YALE’s Master of Fine Art department along with an impeccable mastery of craftsmanship go a long way in that smooth transition into the Western credence. Puryear’s new canon’s first stipulation is to educate yourself. You must know where your work fits in the analogs of history. The second order is to make the work impeccable. These mandates immediately remove your artwork from the category of folk, primitive, street, naïve and outsider art-outside of Western academia.

Contemporary artist Martin Puryear carefully considered the site requirements before designing and fabricating That Profile , the large-scale sculpture commissioned for and installated on the Getty Center’s Tram Arrival Plaza. In this video, Puryear’s comments about the design process accompany footage of the sculpture being made, transported, and installed.

Avoidance of Africa

African Mende carved wooden Janus mask, Sierra Leone. Double sided figural visages. 17"H.http://antiquehelper.rfcsystems.com/Full/217/70217.jpg

African Mende carved wooden Janus mask, Sierra Leone. Double sided figural visages. 17″H.http://antiquehelper.rfcsystems.com/Full/217/70217.jpg

Mr. Puryear’s experience with wood, his signature material, has a long history. His father was an amateur carpenter, and he made guitars while in college. As a member of the Peace Corps, he learned “old world joinery” from local woodworkers in Sierra Leone. While attending the Swedish Royal Academy, Mr. Puryear spent three weeks in the studio of furniture maker James Krenov https://mnaves.wordpress.com/tag/contemporary-sculpture/

Stipulation number three, avoid directly addressing Africa, race, ritual, and identity. To do so would pull the work back into the realm of folk. This avoidance is crucial to the commercial longevity of an artist that has “passed”. The need to distance oneself from Africa preserves the Western rubric. This reasoning leads to this acceptance of Puryear’s work as Minimalism and Formalism first primarily. These mandates allow his clearly African practice to be in a visual limbo.

This visual limbo presents itself as the “universal” or “global” aesthetic where any quasi-indigenous people could possibly make it. In this global/universal dialogue the work can and could be applied and credited to many different art movements, all of which use Africa as a springboard to become Avant guard or relevant again while Africa remains primitive. It is easy to see how could be linked to post-minimalism.

Often associated with both Minimalism and Formalist sculpture, Puryear rejects that his work is ever non-referential or objective. The pure and direct imagistic forms born from his use of traditional craft are allusive and poetic, as well as deeply personal. Visually, they encounter the history of objects and the history of their making, suggesting public and private narratives including those of the artist, race, ritual, and identity. http://www.ebay.com/itm/Martin-Puryear-Catalog-from-show-Art-Institute-of-Chicago-Neal-Benezra-/252222144694

This inquiry leads us to this topic. If Puryear is only using Africa as a point of appropriation and inspiration, then how is he any different than Picasso? And if he is acting like Picasso, operating from a colonial view of Africa then he should also be held accountable for that as he continues subjugation of Africa to exalt the West. Herein lays a major problem with attending any institution. If during the process of receiving your desired degree one actually reinforces the Western canon.

Some may say Puryear is not actually avoiding anything; rather he is very subtly and subversively handling such divisive topics as race, identity, and ritual. Those who entertain this thought should be reminded of Puryear’s other stipulation…every opportunity one has to speak about his/her work, make as many references to iconic Western art history. He is not subtle about the West.

 

Christopher HutchinsonChristopher Hutchinson is an accomplished Jamaican conceptual artist, professor and contributor to the art community as a writer, critic and founder of the nonprofit Smoke School of Art. He is a Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College and has been featured as a lecturer including prestigious engagements at University of Alabama and the Auburn Avenue Research Library. For two decades, Chris has been a practicing artist. His works have been exhibited in internationally recognized institutions including City College New York (CUNY) and featured at the world’s leading international galleries such as Art Basel Miami. He has always had an innate passion for creating spaces where Africans and people of African descent contribute to an inclusive contemporary dialogue—ever evolving, not reflexive but pioneering. This requires challenging the rubric of the canon of art history, a systemic space of exclusion for the Other: women and non-Whites, and where necessary he rewrites it. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of Art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama.

That Moment When Artists Snap

by Carla Aaron-Lopez

Carla writes about the experience of being an emerging artist. Her previous posts are: Notes from kingCARLA, Notes from kingCARLA 2, Notes from kingCARLA 3.

Kevin Bongang, Mural in Edgewood neighborhood, Atlanta

Kevin Bongang, Mural in Edgewood neighborhood, Atlanta

“Kevin just snapped,” said Corey. And he did.

One year, his drawings looked a certain way and the next year they were on another level. They took on their own whimsical nature unlike the controlled squiggles that Kevin was known for drawing. His color palette no longer looked like someone studying color but of a man that had created his own world and the colors informed the mood of the characters that inhabited this make-believe space. I was blown away by someone that I felt had potential but wasn’t sure where he was going with all that. Half of the time I don’t even know where I’m going.

I had this conversation about Kevin with Corey, an artist friend of mine, a few years ago before I left Atlanta. Corey is another person that also snapped when it came to his art. It is his series of female portraits that are just striking. At the time, I didn’t really understand the ramifications of Corey’s statement about Kevin or what it meant to truly snap artistically. Years later on a spontaneous trip back to Atlanta, I saw one of Kevin’s newest public art murals and began to understand the power of snapping as an artist.

As much as I’ve studied art, there is a legit moment when the artist snaps. The work changes and evolves to an actual visual statement versus a singular creative object. Hobbyists make creative objects. Artists make visual statements that force viewers to think and see the world differently . As cliched as it is to use Picasso as an example, he snapped the day he walked into a museum, saw some African masks and changed the direction of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. That same painting changed the entire direction and nature of modern art in the late 20th century. Picasso makes art history and we all know the rest of the story from there.

What went through his head the moment he saw those masks? We can speculate but we weren’t there nor can we go back in time to have a Being John Malkovich moment and crawl into his mind to see what he really thought.

We just know that it was at that moment, he snapped.

Honestly, I’m waiting for my moment to snap. I’m in awe and envy of my friends that have had their moment. I want to evolve but I have let fear get in the way. Fear of not making something mind-numbingly great. Fear of not hitting the black intellectual nail on the head. Fear of getting fired for making super controversial feminist (yes, I’ve finally admitted that I am a feminist) work because I’m a middle school art teacher and the list goes on. It’s these types of fears that keep me from progressing the way I would like to as an artist and I don’t know when or how I’m going to get rid of them. I’m on the side of my proverbial mountaintop but scared to continue.

Eventually, I’m going to snap too. Or just be stuck in waiting until I quit making art.

I look up to many artists that have all had that moment somewhere in their career. Sadly, majority of them are men due to the art world’s lack of compassion for all women artists. Even more sadly is that if those same women artists have never had children and it wasn’t because of a biological reason (see Frida Kahlo), I lack total respect for them. My life doesn’t align with theirs. They will never understand the beauty and harsh reality of motherhood. They will never understand the intense paranoia of doing something that could possibly take food off your table and clothes off your child’s back. Face the facts, I live in the South and Southerners don’t do controversy very well. That’s a reality for me while others can get away with it. I stand in the wings of life’s grand stage secretly applauding their controversial actions.

I’ve lacked in producing any work this past year because I’ve finally achieved the goal of getting my career as an educator and financial life together. Not only have I been concerned with making my art but seriously, how was I going to pay for this? How were supplies going to get into my home? These priorities force me to think and see art differently. Encounter new ways of executing old ideas. Boldly steal concepts from my favorite artists and force them into my fold. I figured out a long time ago that if I wanted to make the bold, controversial art, I needed for it to be large, attention-getting and everything that I feel I cannot be in public.

I want the work to be disgusting and unladylike. I want to do it under a pen name of a white man and totally fuck with the perception of gender and power because why not? White men rule the art world. I want the work to have everything that you hate in it. Pictures of outer space and shit. Big, fat ass strippers because why not? Throw in little nods to slavery and the black experience here and there because black and white people love that shit.

Maybe I have snapped and I don’t know it yet.

Maybe I’m fantasizing again.

Or maybe I’m bored and unchallenged because I am a middle school art teacher who spends nothing but time sharpening my foundational sword.

There’s only so much I can do right now in this moment.

–    Ms. Lopez

 

Carla Aaron-Lopez photoArtist: Carla Aaron-Lopez

Instagram: @iamkingcarla

Twitter: @teachkingcarla

 

Postcolonial Thoughts: Arnika Dawkins Gallery Panel Discussion “On Being Black” at Spelman

 

Arnika Dawkins Gallery is honored to present On Being Black, a provocative and groundbreaking invitational photography exhibition. On Being Black features work by 23 nationally renowned, mid-career and emerging fine art photographers. The show explores issues of race, colorism and racial identity. The exhibition and the accomplished artists who are in participation endeavor to continue the conversation about race as well as attempt to make sense of the daily news; exploring the questions of how does one identify them self, who defines race and what does it mean to be black in the new millennium. On Being Black provides an intelligent point of view with distinct and observant voices on this topic…On display Fri Oct 16 to Jan 22 2016 A visual dialogue about race in America created by some of the most highly sought after artist [sic] of our time utilizing the medium of photography http://www.adawkinsgallery.com/black.html

 

Renee Cox Liberation of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben http://artinfo-images-350.s3.amazonaws.com/asi2-85688/233.jpg

Renee Cox Liberation of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben
http://artinfo-images-350.s3.amazonaws.com/asi2-85688/233.jpg

 

Obstacles to pursuing an artistic practice while being Black

Please join the Arnika Dawkins Gallery, Atlanta Celebrates Photography, and the Museum for a panel discussion featuring artists Sheila Pree BrightAlbert ChongAllen CooleyRenée CoxDelphine FawunduJohn Pinderhughes, and Deborah Willis, Ph.D.  The panel discussion will be moderated by Kirsten Pai Buick, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Art History at The University of New Mexico.

This program is organized in conjunction with the exhibition On Being Black, on view at the Arnika Dawkins Gallery from October 16, 2015 to January 22, 2016.  This provocative and groundbreaking exhibition will feature work by 23 nationally renowned, mid-career and emerging fine art photographers and explores issues of race, colorism, and racial identity. http://museum.spelman.edu/programs/on-being-black-a-panel-discussion/

 

This article is not a critique of the photography displayed in the exhibition. It is a reflection on the discussion by a number of artists that participated in the Anika Gallery exhibition at Spelman Museum on October 17, 2015 11a.m. The discussion began as most discussions do, going down the line waiting for individual responses with a moderator fielding the questions. These were general questions that were meant to engage the artist practice and issues that each artist may have come across and might have to endure over their career, to which each artist readily and candidly replied.

The timbre of the discussion began to change once Renee Cox sparked the notion that she does not believe in such issues or obstacles. Moreover these “issues” are choices made by artists that blocked their own development. Cox went further to share a story of her father, a British citizen before Jamaica received its independence in 1964, who came to Florida in 1940. He immediately went to the Fontainebleau, at that time segregated. At which point he walked through the front door and argued with the Hotel owner for thirty minutes after which stayed in a room there for two nights. The point Cox made was that sometimes you need to be ignorant of boundaries and demand your space. One can choose to accept these obstacles or ignore them and pursue an individual pursuit. Sure there are situations that can affect the outcome, but if that stops someone’s progress then that individual should choose another profession.

 

 

Albert Chong, also a Jamaican artist, seconded Cox’s position and shared his arrival in America, when he was introduced to its specialized racism. Chong also acknowledge the wish for a Caucasian avatar to present his work and navigate the art world. Then Chong added another brick to the fire by explaining the difference as to the misconception of Jamaican pride. He went on to clarify the point by saying that this pride may be perceived as arrogance, but it is not…It is self-love. Self-love is a requirement to overcoming obstacles and pursuing one’s own career.

 

African American leisure as a form of resistance

Sheila Pree Bright untitled #34 suburbia series http://www.artsatl.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Bright.jpg

Sheila Pree Bright untitled #34 suburbia series
http://www.artsatl.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Bright.jpg

 

John Pinder Hughes and Sheila Pree Bright both offered another requirement as a form of resistance leisure. Pree Bright discussed the pushback on her suburbia series by White board members that did not believe her photographs of Black homes. One of her critics was bold enough to say “I’ve never heard of this Black suburbia”. Pree Bright went on to identify the problem from a White perspective is that the images did not have enough Black identifiers in it-no watermelons, Martin Luther King, references that made the suburbia African American. In this case suburbia becomes more militant than the overt images of Blackness.

Hughes discussed his work that captured African American leisure in the Hamptons over decades and how that is important to the overall make-up of the Black image. The Black image is not this monolithic icon always struggling. Hughes’s leisure is resistance of limitations placed on Blackness.

 

John Pinder Hughes Pretty for a Black Girl, 1998 http://www.adawkinsgallery.com/black/0006.html

John Pinder Hughes
Pretty for a Black Girl, 1998
http://www.adawkinsgallery.com/black/0006.html

 

Global Blackness

Delphine Fawundu What Do They Call Me? My Name is Aunt Sarah, 2010 http://www.adawkinsgallery.com/black/0002.html

Delphine Fawundu
What Do They Call Me? My Name is Aunt Sarah, 2010
http://www.adawkinsgallery.com/black/0002.html

 

Dlephine Fawundu rounded out the discussion from a Brooklyn, Mali, Sierra Leone, Ghana perspective. She discussed how when people from Brooklyn see the images of Ghanaians and vice versa, there is a familiarity of exchange, a recognition of blood. This resounded with another sentiment presented by Albert Chong.

Chong said he was the youngest of nine children to Jamaican/Chinese parents and most of his time was spent learning who the extended family was. He said most of his learning and understanding of his history came from photo albums. Those photo albums gave him a foothold as to his place in in his family as well as the world. Chong alluded to a loss of memory due to the fact that we do not have an intact photo album. Fawundu’s work certainly are building blocks for a restoration of memory.

The crowd kept asking questions until finally they had to be stopped. The discussion ended up being a small global panel as to how artists can pursue their career with fearlessness, leisure, documentation and self-love. Definitely need more discussions on this.

 

Christopher HutchinsonChristopher Hutchinson is an accomplished Jamaican conceptual artist, professor and contributor to the art community as a writer, critic and founder of the nonprofit Smoke School of Art. He is a Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College and has been featured as a lecturer including prestigious engagements at University of Alabama and the Auburn Avenue Research Library. For two decades, Chris has been a practicing artist. His works have been exhibited in internationally recognized institutions including City College New York (CUNY) and featured at the world’s leading international galleries such as Art Basel Miami. He has always had an innate passion for creating spaces where Africans and people of African descent contribute to an inclusive contemporary dialogue—ever evolving, not reflexive but pioneering. This requires challenging the rubric of the canon of art history, a systemic space of exclusion for the Other: women and non-Whites, and where necessary he rewrites it. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of Art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama.

Notes from kingCARLA

by Carla Aaron-Lopez

They call this the beginning of a career. Even though my resume is already a mile long, I believe it to be the start of getting to that “emerging artist” label. Somewhere in grad school, I attended a lecture from an artist who asked my class what we were going to do once we graduate. We all agreed that he was crazy and answered that we were going to get jobs and go to work. At the time, it seemed like it made sense and that’s what some of us went off to do. We graduated, got jobs and became professors at respective universities.

However, for some of us, those cards didn’t stack that way. In my case, I was an adjunct at a historically black university for three years until I was cut. I still don’t know why. My unemployment says I was cut because of low enrollment and since then I haven’t been able to pick up another job. I had no choice but to do what I had been trained to do which is be an artist and when I look at the art world in motion I see less of me and more of those that taught me.

Lots of old white men and women. Ain’t nothing wrong with that but it forces me to wonder if I should do this at all. My ego is too big to let appearances cause me to quit. Therefore, I can’t help but to ask and investigate what it takes to be an artist of color in the 21st century. It’s 2014 and I find I still have to play cute little games to get accepted into this centuries old world. I come from a different place. I call it the dirty South, others just call it Atlanta. I’m not much into creating works that examine the place of black women in America or the African diaspora. I’m also not interested in making works that dog the sh*t out of men. I prefer making works that reflect my Southern background just like the ignorant rap music I love listening to while I create works. If you want a postcolonial discussion from me, I’ll direct you to my homie, Christopher Hutchinson, because he has the words you can’t run from.

In the meantime, this post is being created to help you (and me) explore what it takes to be an artist. And here’s the first step. Explore your influences. It doesn’t have to solely be artists. It can be writers, thinkers, dancers and/or rappers. As much as I love rappers is as much as I love Jean Baudrillard and Michel Foucault. It could even be television characters like the great Doctor Who. Examine why you are drawn to these influences. Is it the confidence you’re attracted to? Is it theories that you’ve read and you want to create something that reflects what you’ve learned? Is it history of a person, place or thing? I don’t know. It’s your world coming to life as an artist. We all have a world we live in that separates us from the next person. I believe that’s how we all keep our sanity. Don’t believe me? Check my next paragraph.

When I graduated with a MFA in photography in 2009, I ended up with a crappy job at TSS Photography transferring children in sports photos to products like keychains, dog tags and mugs to name a few. I hated it. I also didn’t have a camera and I was driving myself crazy. One day, I came across Romare Bearden again and remembered how my favorite black artists could only work using few materials because they had regular crappy jobs and families to feed. I looked around my apartment and saw that I had scissors, glue and plenty of collected magazines. If I couldn’t shoot the photograph then I figured I could make a new image using ones I found in magazines. It was at that moment I realized that I was more than the photographer that some cute little sheet of paper declared. I realized that I needed to investigate image making. In 2011, I started a new body of work that has taken me in a direction that I never anticipated. I dropped a baby from the womb in 2012 which led me to think about the nature of creation. OF COURSE, I knew NOTHING of what it meant to be pregnant. Let alone a mother of color in a world that believes itself to be post-racial. No. I began to think about what images and influences I will be bringing around my son based upon the things I had grown to like. None of them were very pretty, soft or becoming of a woman. They were quite hypersexualized, crude and rude. Just how I like my life.

That woman you see in strip clubs laughing with the dancers? Yeah. That’s me. I love being your family’s worst nightmare walking through your house for dinner. A dirty intellectual. The work I created ended up being bodies that were imbued with power because they appear to be powerless. What happens when you flip a world upside down and inside out?

You get the beginnings of an emerging artist. Take a look and tell me what you think. If the work makes you feel uncomfortable then my job as an artist is complete because those are the images I have to deal with on a daily basis.

– Carla Aaron-Lopez
@iamkingcarla
whoiskingcarla.com

original mother, 2011

original mother, 2011

biggie alone, 2011

biggie alone, 2011

black girl jesus, 2012

black girl jesus, 2012

queen vanessa, 2011

queen vanessa, 2011

duality, 2011

duality, 2011

garvey fart, 2012

garvey fart, 2012

zombie shaman, 2012

zombie shaman, 2012
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