Tag Archives: postcolonialism

Postcolonial Thoughts: Wendy Red Star’s Native Spectacle & Satire

by Christopher Hutchinson

Satire

There is a persistent problem that emerges amongst marginalized artists. The attempt to use satire as a clever way to expose the inadequacies of systematic colonialism often only succeeds in proving the accuracy of the colonial structure. The Harlem Renaissance artists and thinkers were accused of assimilating and practicing the traits of the same colonial regime they tried to separate themselves from. This problem is present in the work of Wendy Red Star. The satire she employs simply does not exceed the status quo native propaganda proposed by the Western depictions.

Wendy Red Star’s socially critical installation draws inspiration and employs imagery from growing up on the Crow Indian Reservation in south-central Montana. Historic photographs and regalia are juxtaposed with tapestries, text, and objects she has constructed to re-humanize a past tribal leader whose image has been appropriated for commercial use. Photographs of Chief Medicine Crow (c. 1848-1920) were taken in Washington, D.C., when he and four other tribal leaders were coerced into signing a treaty ceding a portion of tribal lands to the United States Government. His image has frequently been used to represent a stereotypical, nameless, Indian “brave.” Red Star’s newest installation is an extension of her earlier work, which employed gender-focused, political self-imagery, not unlike the art of Cindy Sherman, Ana Mendieta, and Frida Kahlo, to draw attention to the marginalization of Native Americans.-http://portlandartmuseum.org/exhibitions/apex-wendy-red-star/

“In APEX, by replicating a historical museum diorama, she names and honors Medicine Crow, and revises the white man’s historical paradigm.” http://portlandartmuseum.org/exhibitions/apex-wendy-red-star/

Red Star’s naming of chief Medicine Crow is a lateral move from artifact to artifact. She wants to reclaim the image but has reprinted the image, which has notes in red scribbled all over the image. This is the same complaint with which she convicts Whites–the use and over use of the image of Medicine Crow. Red Star’s use of this image, while she intends it to be different, is no different than the sea of generalized depictions of Natives.

This points to another major factor that affects marginalized artists, the process of academia. Natives that attend art programs without peers in their nationality often feel the need for their counterparts to understand and communicate in Western language while receiving no feedback within their own language. That process often produces a native artist which has successfully communicated in a colonial way with very little of their own language present in the work. Academia should clarify one’s own language, not assimilate to the norm. Red Star is a self-proclaimed research artist and ends up with the same conclusions anyone else would from any google search about Crow Native. Nothing is added here except for the fact that she is a Native Crow. Her work is generic.

Spectacle

Wendy Red Star’s satire of White Squaw is a reinforcement of Native iconography as spectacle rather than a critique of the colonial. Many artists who deal with identity art only succeed at a reinforcement, not a critique. Red Star fulfills the directive of the original White Squaw novel narrative. Squaw being the half White and half Native that infiltrated and coerced Natives to acquiesce to the Whites.

Once again the clever trick in role playing here is not successful in surpassing the original intent of Western propaganda. The original novel has a White woman pretending to be an authentic Native. Red Star is an authentic Native assuming the role. That is a problem because it gives validation to the original novel, not an investigation to actual relations between Whites and Natives. Marginalized artists must be careful not to have so much of the colonial in their dialogue that it overshadows the dialogue of the indigenous.

Authority to name primitive

August 29, 2009–January 10, 2010

The objects featured in this exhibit, ones seen publicly for the first time, are drawn from a private collection developed over the past 30 years by an adventuresome couple from Ten­nes­see. What started as a simple memento of the Southwest—a pair of small kachina dolls purchased in Santa Fe, New Mexico—eventually led to a remarkably rich and diverse collection of items produced by Indian peoples throughout all culture areas of Native North America. http://mcclungmuseum.utk.edu/exhibits/american-indian-art/

As well-intentioned as the McClung museum in Tennessee may be, the mere fact that contemporary Native exhibitions still are attempting to “discover” the Natives is a problem. This leads to the most disturbing aspect of Red Star, the documentary at the McClung museum is actually more thorough than Red Star’s own accounts.

The West has long held the power to name a culture as primitive. This is the problem of the “Other.” How can “Others,” including Native Americans, name and control their own dialogue? –Not with Satire & Spectacle.

 

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.

Postcolonial Thoughts: Lyle Ashton Harris Lecture at the HIGH: Indecisive moments

by Christopher Hutchinson

For more than two decades Lyle Ashton Harris has cultivated a diverse artistic practice ranging from photographic media, collage, installation and performance. His work explores intersections between the personal and the political, examining the impact of ethnicity, gender and desire on the contemporary social and cultural dynamic. Known for his self-portraits and use of pop culture icons (such as Billie Holiday and Michael Jackson), Harris teases the viewers’ perceptions and expectations, resignifying cultural cursors and recalibrating the familiar with the extraordinary. His work has been exhibited internationally, including at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the 52nd Venice Biennale. His work has been acquired by major international museums, most recently by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His commissioned work has been featured in a wide range of publications, including The New York Times Magazine and the New Yorker. In 2014 Harris joined the board of trustees at the American Academy in Rome and was named the 10th recipient of the David C. Driskell Prize by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. Born in New York City, Harris spent his formative years in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. He received his Bachelor of Arts with Honors from Wesleyan University in 1988 and a Masters in Fine Arts from the California Institute of the Arts in 1990. He currently lives and works in New York City and is an Associate Professor at New York University. http://www.lyleashtonharris.com/about/

Lyle Ashton Harris is considered to be a pioneer in Postcolonial art, in which his collaboration with Renee Cox has a very important dialogue about blackness with the residue of Colonialism.  One of the goals of Postcolonialism is to be aware of the far reaching effects of Colonialism and then ultimately to rewrite that history.  To this end Lyle Ashton Harris has an important place in the legacy of art history.  It was with this knowledge and hope that attendance to the HIGH museum lecture in Atlanta on January 15, 2015 became mandatory.

For the exhibition Mirage: Enigmas of Race, Difference and Desire (1995), Lyle Ashton Harris in collaboration with Renee Valerie Cox created the photograph, “Venus Hottentot 2000.” In this futuristic reinterpretation of the Hottentot Venus, Renee Valerie Cox directly inserts her own body into the historical matrix of Western representations that configured black female sexuality. In the photograph Cox’s body is transformed, recalling the Hottentot Venus, with the addition of protruding metallic breasts and an accompanying metal butt extension. The white strings that delicately hold these metallic body parts in place with bow, seem to emphasize the artists’ complex and ambivalent relationships to representations of black female sexuality. Cox wears the metallic appendages like a costume or disguise, but her own nude body is simultaneously revealed to the viewer. She stands in profile emphasizing her bodily dimensions, hands akimbo, and stares directly at the viewer.“Hottentot 2000″ is one photograph in a series by Harris called The Good Life, 1994. https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/postcolonialstudies/2014/06/21/postcolonial-performance-and-installation-art/

Harris then proceeded to deliver one of the most disappointing and disturbing lectures, a litany of name-dropping and external references to other famous artists and philosophers that was far from Postcolonial thoughts except for the engagement of the “Other”–the “Other” is not the only point of Postcolonialism.  He bounced from topic to topic in flurry of art speak that was intended to connect conflicting concepts that did not really apply to his own praxis.  Harris discussed his overall career as a photographer moving through collage, portraiture, and performance art.  The audience suffered through an amateurish performance about Michael Jackson and the homeless that was poorly executed.  The lecture ended with a slideshow of all his notable acquaintances over an amped up Grace Jones track with his voice competing with it.  After suffering though, it became clear the one consistent in Harris’ methodology is appropriation of established Western thought.  Postcolonialism is not interested in appropriating the West. Appropriating the West can only result in the promotion of the residual effects of colonialism, not ending them.

What exactly is special to Harris’ art practice to be so well received?

Lyle Ashton Harris plays Michael Jackson in Performing MJ. (Photo by Ray Llanos) - See more at: http://www.artsatl.com/2014/02/news-lyle-ashton-harris-wins-high-museums-10th-annual-david-c-driskell-prize/#sthash.JP8Q7vBm.dpuf

Lyle Ashton Harris plays Michael Jackson in Performing MJ. (Photo by Ray Llanos) – See more at: http://www.artsatl.com/2014/02/news-lyle-ashton-harris-wins-high-museums-10th-annual-david-c-driskell-prize/#sthash.JP8Q7vBm.dpuf

Rephotographed Collages

Prince began appropriating photographs in 1975. His image, Untitled (Cowboy), a “rephotograph” of a photograph taken originally by Sam Abell and appropriated from a cigarette advertisement, was the first “rephotograph” to raise more than $1 million at auction when it was sold at Christie’sNew York in 2005. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Prince

Harris’s collages aren’t technically collages at all; a rebus picture puzzle would be more accurate. These “collages” don’t overlap, are relatively the same-sized images, with almost the exact same space around each image. All point to a lack of mastery of medium/process. It is a visual dumbing down of two-dimensional space while referencing Picasso and Duchamp. So what if the images were rephotographed. How does that knowledge add to the importance of the concept? During the lecture Harris went into great detail when it came to the medium and rambled when it came to the work, overcompensating with name-dropping and large scale. The lecture had all the earmarks of the student who has not taken the time to write out his artist statement.

Harris discussed his collage Blow Up IV and how the main image relates to Manet’s Olympia and how the drips in the middle are semen. Once again an external reference used to lend importance to a sloppily executed artwork.

Untitled (Mobile #4), 2005  for The New York Times Magazine, 1 Jan. 2006 http://www.lyleashtonharris.com/selected-commissions/

Untitled (Mobile #4), 2005
for The New York Times Magazine, 1 Jan. 2006
http://www.lyleashtonharris.com/selected-commissions/

Harris described this NY Times commission on which he was charged to go to Africa and document Africans with some form of technology to which the above image and others were taken. This is no different than Manet’s Olympia with the spectacle of Blackness. Something that was intended to prove Africans modernity actually promotes Otherness.

The Decisive Moment

Henri Cartier-Bresson is considered to be the father of modern photojournalism. His style of “street photography,” using small format cameras, still influences modern photojournalists to this day.

In the documentary above, Henri Cartier-Bresson describes the elusive decisive moment, which cannot be staged or faked.  Once it’s happened, that’s it.  Bresson allows for this moment to occur while paying attention to composition.  His composition affirms the narrative of the decisive moment.  Lyle Ashton Harris relies only upon shock and icon to force the viewer into a narrative that he has constructed. It’s a burden that shock and icon cannot satisfy.

 

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.

 

Postcolonial Thoughts: Picasso Continued: Avant-Garde Africa

by Christopher Hutchinson

The End of Western Thought

Picasso’s “genius” also stems from his singular contribution that results in the end of the Western tradition of painting. Picasso is credited with the break from classical forms, proportions, and the tradition of rendering the perfect figure. This places Picasso as a heroic figure in art history. The “one” who took art upon himself to charter new territories and inspire new broken traditions.

Leonardo Vitruvian Man

This image provides the perfect example of Leonardo’s keen interest in proportion. In addition, this picture represents a cornerstone of Leonardo’s attempts to relate man to nature. Encyclopaedia Britannica online states, “Leonardo envisaged the great picture chart of the human body he had produced through his anatomical drawings and Vitruvian Man as acosmografia del minor mondo (cosmography of the microcosm). He believed the workings of the human body to be an analogy for the workings of the universe.”http://leonardodavinci.stanford.edu/submissions/clabaugh/history/leonardo.html

The leading piece of these broken traditions is evidenced by Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon 1907, considered to be the precursor to cubism. Picasso’s “genius” is cemented in this singular piece where proportion, flatness, dimension are all broken in the new tradition Picasso sees.

“Les Demoiselles d’Avignon marks a radical break from traditional composition and perspective in painting. It depicts five naked women with figures composed of flat, splintered planes and faces inspired by Iberian sculpture and African masks. The compressed space the figures inhabit appears to project forward in jagged shards; a fiercely pointed slice of melon in the still life of fruit at the bottom of the composition teeters on an impossibly upturned tabletop. These strategies would be significant in Picasso’s subsequent development of Cubism, charted in this gallery with a selection of the increasingly fragmented compositions he created in this period.” http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=79766

Picasso is then credited with inventing cubism, along with Georges Braque, the backbone of the legend of Picasso. Cubism cements Picasso’s legacy. We are led to believe that Picasso’s venture into cubist practice was a natural progression improved upon the foundation provided by Paul Cézanne landscapes, where Cézanne used large geometric shapes, and block of color. This is a plausible explanation only for people who have no idea what it takes to paint, and or blind. There is no way to achieve Cubism without direct appropriation African Sculpture.

cubism

Cubism was one of the most influential visual art styles of the early twentieth century. It was created by Pablo Picasso(Spanish, 1881–1973) and Georges Braque (French, 1882–1963) in Paris between 1907 and 1914. The French art critic Louis Vauxcelles coined the term Cubism after seeing the landscapes Braque had painted in 1908 at L’Estaque in emulation of Cézanne. Vauxcelles called the geometric forms in the highly abstracted works “cubes.” Other influences on early Cubism have been linked to Primitivism and non-Western sources. The stylization and distortion of Picasso’s ground-breaking Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (Museum of Modern Art, New York), painted in 1907, came from African art. Picasso had first seen African art when, in May or June 1907, he visited the ethnographic museum in the Palais du Trocadéro in Paris. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/cube/hd_cube.htm

Avant-Garde Africa

Dr. Gus Casely-Hayford is a curator and cultural historian. He is a King’s College Institute Associate and a Research Associate at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

As part of the Wonderful Africa Season in 2010, he presented Lost Kingdoms of Africa, four 60-minute programmes for BBC 2 and BBC 4. He presented a second series in 2012. Gus presented The Genius of British Art for Channel 4 in 2010 and hosted The Culture Show on BBC 2 in 2012. http://www.petersfraserdunlop.com/factual_tv/gus-casely-hayford

The contribution of Africa is not an afterthought; it is primary. The reduction of form, geometric vocabulary, multiple perspective, bulbous and inverted shapes on the same form, as well as the analytical investigation of form, and abstracted form, is all apart of African sculpture praxis. The intellectual credit that is heaped upon cubism and at the primitive label on Africa is unacceptable. The Museum placement of Cubism as modern and Africa in the basement is unacceptable. All modern art derives from Africa.

It is even more disturbing when people—the very people affected by this direct cultural appropriation—support these notions. The tradition is now upheld by their naiveté, their hoping to achieve intellectual social status through the same process that claims them to be primitive.

JAY Z “Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film.” Directed by Mark Romanek.Performed at PACE gallery

What happens when a Ming dynasty porcelain vase is displayed in America without the Chinese knowledge? A Native American artifact? African art has been physically and intellectually appropriated without recognition. This practice must stop.

Christopher HutchinsonChristopher Hutchinson is an Assistant Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College, Archetype Art Gallery Owner in Atlanta, Ga, and Smoke School of Art Founder. 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. He lived in Alabama for 10 years before moving to Atlanta in 2008.

Learn more about Christopher and his work at Black Flight 144.

Postcolonial Thoughts: Contemporary Primitivism: El Anatsui

by Christopher Hutchinson

Formal & Global

Mr. Anatsui’s wall hangings, majestic as they are, do not use scale as a cudgel. That’s true even of high-profile works like his mural at the High Line and of the wall-spanning, rotunda-filling examples in the Brooklyn show. Only after you have marveled at their intricacy and versatility does the vastness hit you. It helps to know (as many people do, now that Mr. Anatsui is a global star) that these peaked, shimmering fields are made from folded, twisted and linked liquor-bottle caps, at studios in Ghana and Nigeria, and that they have as much to do with post-colonial poverty and strife as they do with opulence. –KAREN ROSENBERG http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/01/arts/design/gravity-and-grace-by-el-anatsui-at-brooklyn-museum.html

El Anatsui has made his way to the top of the art scene using his famous tapestry technique using beer bottle caps. His work has been well respected for years now and deserves a serious conversation as to how his work really functions in this art world. Anatsui is often considered to be a Global artist and sometimes even a Post-Colonial artist. These two terms are often used synonomously, but that would be a mistake. To become a global artist means something very different than being a post-colonial artist. A global artist refers to “universal” appeal. That “universal” appeal is often decided and upheld by the Western rubric of formalism.

Formalism is a particular mode of art criticism and theory according to which all visual art has an intrinsic value. This value is determined by the artist’s ability to achieve an aesthetic order and balance of certain elemental truths within a painting. These elemental truths are the painting’s use of color, line, composition and texture. No matter how much artistic style and taste may change over time, formalism holds that these truths are constant.” http://www.theartstory.org/section_theory_formalism.htm

This formalism is inseperable from Western academia, which is then applied to Global art and artists. From this point Anatsui is a Global artist by how his works function in the current art world. He does discuss his heritage and significance of African/Ghanian aesthetic, but the process of formalism, and globalization nullify the African/Ghanian voice. His work is firstly discussed through the practice and assembly of his wall sculpture. The dialogue is reduced to formal elements, mainly, color, and form. While formalism is a good way evaluate art, but it also a tool to eradicate identity and ethnicity.

EcoArt & Upcycling

Anatsui’s work also has a dialogue that coincides with green art, ecoart, upcycling, saving the earth one bottle cap at a time. These are all good things for an eco-conscious collector, but what does this have to do with African tapestry? Are the beer bottle caps justified? Could this not have been achieved with African/Ghanian tapestry? Is the labor and process most important? Is this really more or less successful than Sam Gilliam’s work?

These questions beg for more specificity in the work of Anatsui. Is the bottle cap the large red shiny technique? Does this technique add or detract from the concept? Can we even get to the concept? Or are we just enamored by the sparkly, pieces in museum lights? Anatsui’s scale seems haphazard at times. His dimensions are often flat. These are major undergraduate concerns.

Craft & Primitive

“Prinitivism-Term used to describe the fascination of early modern European artists with what was then called primitive art – including tribal art from Africa, the South Pacific and Indonesia, as well as prehistoric and very early European art, and European folk art

Primitivism also means the search for a simpler more basic way of life away from Western urban sophistication and social restrictions. The classic example of this is artist Paul Gauguin’s move from Paris to Tahiti in the South Pacific in 1891. Primitivism was also important for expressionism, including Brücke.

As a result of these artists’ interest and appreciation, what was once called primitive art is now seen as having equal value to Western forms and the term primitive is avoided or used in quotation marks. –TATE http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/p/primitivism

There is a strong element of the “Primitive” present in the dialogue around Anatsui’s work, even though the work itself has been formalized and globalized. The “Primitive” raises its head when his work is exhibited along side the “primitive: African sculpture” collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2006. Once again questions arise. What is the purpose to put Anatsui’s work side by side? What is being proven by doing this? Here we have an authentic African artist fullfilling the lineage of Gauguin as true “primitivist.” Anatsui himself discusses the use of the bottle caps as bridging the gap between Europe and Africa. The bottle caps being introduced by Europeans who brought beer. Here in lies the truth behind all globalism. If you want to be successful you must first “bridge the gap.” Second you must acknowledge the Western art history directly in your work. This by no means is Post-colonial.

 

Christopher HutchinsonChristopher Hutchinson is an Assistant Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College, Archetype Art Gallery Owner in Atlanta, Ga, and Smoke School of Art Founder. 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. He lived in Alabama for 10 years before moving to Atlanta in 2008.

Learn more about Christopher and his work at Black Flight 144.

 

Postcolonial Thoughts: Afrofuturist Rashid Johnson’s Message To Our Folks

“Afrofuturist Rashid Johnson’s Message To Our Folks” is the first post in the new column “Postcolonial Thoughts” written by artist Christopher Hutchinson, Assistant Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan College and Archetype Art Gallery Owner in Atlanta, Ga. In the column Christopher will offer fresh and trenchant analyses of art and theory through the lens of multiple traditions, especially those neglected or not included in the Western canon. 

by Christopher Hutchinson

Rashid Johnson earned his B.F.A. from Columbia College Chicago in 2000 and enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2003. The program’s heavy emphasis on concept and theory posed a challenge to Johnson who wanted to make things. Yet it stoked his interest in the formal elements of artworks and in finding meaningful materials outside those typically associated with traditional art. Johnson left for New York in 2005, and currently lives and works in Brooklyn. Johnson was the recipient of the 2012 David C. Driskell Prize.

Rashid Johnson’s Message to our Folks exhibition at the High Museum was on display June 08 – September 08, 2012 and has recently moved to September 20, 2013 – January 6, 2014 at the Kemper Art Museum to great reviews. Viewers were asked to accept Johnson’s venture from photography to a hodgepodge of other mediums.  Johnson’s venture includes carefully contrived compositions.  These compositions are not as offensive in the medium of photography, where the medium itself is understood to be a simulation. Once Johnson includes sculpture, painting, installation, grafitti and video these compositions are painfully   insulting.  Johnson’s attempts at expression do not meet the requirements included in  the freedom provided by abstract expressionism. Johnson’s marks are unresponsive, static moves. The expression here is purely decorative design.  Johnson’s decisions aren’t concerned with the exploration of the praxis of art making.

 UNDERGRADUATE

Johnson’s methodology is clearly an undergraduate approach. When a concept is weak, throw as many icons as possible. Undergraduates plow through ideas without taking into account the limitations of the medium.  The medium dictates whether that idea will succeed, and when it doesn’t, undergrads depend on imagery to cover this oversight.  Every medium requires a different process from concept to execution and often the concept conflicts with the material. Will this material allow this concept to work? Johnson presents forced concepts onto materials inorganically.

"Napalm" (2011) by U.S. artist Rashid Johnson. It will be shown by the London and Zurich dealers Hauser & Wirth at the 38th edition of the FIAC fair in Paris, previewing Oct. 19.

“Napalm” (2011) by U.S. artist Rashid Johnson. It will be shown by the London and Zurich dealers Hauser & Wirth at the 38th edition of the FIAC fair in Paris, previewing Oct. 19.

Johnson’s Napalm is a good example of this oversight. Napalm is just one example of the blatant disrespect Johnson displays in his praxis. Marks and mediums are made as an afterthought, not as an intuitive response. Every drip, every punch, every brand, every image is staged as an illustration of narrative. Johnson often employs an additive process. Adding more stuff does not make that idea any clearer. Johnson’s marks are timidly placed to make the photographer (which he is) comfortable. Broken glass is regularly spaced and spray paint drips are consistently spread out. It is problematic when an individual is having a discussion of materials, mark-making, sculpture, abstraction, and graffiti.

NOSTALGIA

Johnson explores the work of black intellectual and cultural figures as a way to understand his role as an artist as well as the shifting nature of identity and the individual’s role in that shift. By bringing attention to difference and individuality, he attempts to deconstruct false notions of a singular black American identity. (http://www.high.org/Art/Exhibitions/Rashid-Johnson-Message-To-Our-Folks.aspx)

Rashid Johnson Self Portrait

Self Portrait with My Hair Parted Like Frederick Douglass, 2003.Lambda print. Collection of Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of the Susan and Lewis Manilow Collection of Chicago Artists, 2006.26
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

Message to our Folks is laced with nostalgia. Don’t you remember Frederick Douglass, Al Green, Sweetback, Huey Newton’s wicker chair, Jazz, and Public Enemy? Johnson’s Self Portrait with My Hair Parted Like Frederick Douglass accurately sums up this exhibition.  This seems like Black intelligence, this appears like authentic Blackness. It is a simile and if Johnson’s discussion included simulacra, he would have succeeded. This exhibition provides the foundation to include Blackness as a trend. It adopts osmosis of style, where all an individual has to do is “act Black” to be an authority on Blackness.

Triple Consciousness, 2009 Black soap, wax, vinyl in album cover, shea butter, plant, and brass 48 x 96 in. (121.9 x 243.8 cm) Collection of Dr. Daniel S. Berger, Chicago Courtesy of the artist and moniquemeloche, Chicago

Triple Consciousness, 2009.
Black soap, wax, vinyl in album cover, shea butter, plant, and brass
48 x 96 in. (121.9 x 243.8 cm)
Collection of Dr. Daniel S. Berger, Chicago
Courtesy of the artist and moniquemeloche, Chicago

Nostalgia is a protective warm blanket that prevents this work from critique. How can you criticize the monolithic Black community and not be a deserter? The fact is, Johnson’s Triple Consciousness is just corny. Three Al Green albums does not address the Dubois’s Double Consciousness; it belittles it. The moment critical questioning is applied Johnson’s exhibition falls apart. Johnson’s work is the very definition of Black exploitation by Black Artists under the pretense of uplifting the community.

AFROFUTURISM
Here again we have a contemporary artist living in the past. The irony is Johnson and others are considered to be Afrofuturists. Doctoral candidate Nettrice Gaskins does her best to define and identify the Afrofuturist agenda.

What is afrofuturism?
• It’s not the black version of Futurism. It is an aesthetic and the term can be used to describe a type of artistic and cultural community of practice. Afrofuturism navigates past, present and future simultaneously. The keyword here is: navigation or ascertaining one’s position and planning and following a specific route.
• It is counter-hegemonic. Hegemony refers to the dominant, ruling class or system. Afrofuturism is not concerned with the mainstream or the canon of (Western) art history. In the image above jazz musician and cosmic philosopher Sun Ra (Ra being the Egyptian God of the Sun) placed himself at the center of other known cosmic philosophers and scientists.
• It is revisionist, meaning that afrofuturism advocates for the revision of accepted, long-standing views, theories, historical events and movements

While Gaskins provides the best analysis of Afrofuturism’s intent, unfortunately most of the visual artists included in the Afrofuturist dialogue succeed at accomplishing the exact opposite of its intent. Afrofuturism currently actually provides a collective generic consciousness, which Johnson has condoned. The canon of Afrofuturism imagery is there due to the lack of originality and the regurgitation of something that is assumed to be authentic “Blackness“. Afrofuturism, at best, is a style not an aesthetic. It is not a set of principles underlying and guiding the work of a particular artist or artistic movement. Afrofuturism is stuck navigating the past. Using the spectacle of black bodies dressed up in futuristic garb does not change the context that already exists. The spectacle nourishes it.

ECTO-KITSCH

Black artists manage their representations (images, sounds, systems) in mainstream society and the global world through creativity and innovation, and by using improvisation and re-appropriation to move beyond the limits of nationality or identity. We see these representations manifested again and again in black culture. The lack of African knowledge has not prevented African diasporic people from tapping into the ancestral memory of traditional (African) systems. In other words, we replaced images/artifacts like the cosmogram (map of the universe) with the Unisphere. (http://netarthud.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/what-is-afrofuturism/)

Ecto-Kitsch, a term coined by Professor Jason Sweet that addresses the globalization push that was initially a response to Postcolonialism, is a farce. Ecto-Kitsch recognizes the pretense that a globalization is a non-Western interpretation of art produced by minorities. It recognizes that Globalism has created a universal rubric used to qualify art from non-Western people through the lens of the West. The most Western-like minorities are pushed to the forefront as an example of the West’s new inclusive attitude. The Unisphere expressed in Afrofuturism equals hegemony and hegemony equals kitsch. The very images/artifacts posed as re-appropriations in Afrofuturism, are used for commodification of living people. Johnson proves this commodification with his New Black Yoga. A Black man is performing yoga poses on a T.V placed on a persian rug with the words black yoga spray painted in gold on the rug. This is by far the worst piece in the exhibition. Now Johnson ventures into commodifiying other non-Western cultures as well as his own. This is Johnson’s Message to our Folks.

Christopher Hutchinson Christopher Hutchinson is an Assistant Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College and Archetype Art Gallery Owner in Atlanta, Ga. 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. He lived in Alabama for 10 years before moving to Atlanta in 2008. His installations mostly consist of black folded paper airplanes.

Learn more about Christopher and his work at Black Flight 144.

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