After reading about slavery taking the presence of the art world, I became extremely intrigued by its influence on people as a whole. First and foremost, I think it is specifically interesting that slavery was incorporated in art in such a powerful and guiding way. Secondly, the challenges the people encountered in order to produce such a powerful work is astonishing.
In Thelma Golden’s piece about black men represented in art, she points out the fact that African-Americans throughout history and since slavery have been seen as lesser than the average white man. As Thelma says, “The black male body, fetishized and overdetermined, is the site on which popular culture sometimes expresses itself… It is where the black body is considered as object and subject.” To me, this was extremely interesting due to the fact that I believe that Thelma is pointing out that making the black male body the subject and the object, it becomes an art form in itself. Thus, I relate this back to Greek and Roman times where the perfect male body was often represented in religious connotations. Why was there never a perfect African-American body produced in such a manner? Why has there not been one produced like that today without the immediate distinction of the body being “dark?” With this, it is clear to me that history yet today has far to advance away from typical stereotypes including skin color and race as well as gender.
Kara Walker has always been an artist I come back to. When I start struggling with making art, just looking at her work gets me inspired again. She puts so much energy behind the images she makes, possibly enough to give me a little boost.
Walker is using such an overlooked subject matter with her silhouettes. The simple style she’s using, I feel, gets people to look at her work and see the societal problems most viewers want to ignore. Working on such a big scale helps with this. Her works engulf the viewer, making it impossible for the viewer to look away. Her current works do this too. We saw a recent show of hers in New York and most of her work is massive, 20-foot-tall drawings with live size figures in some case. Even though they were set in the antebellum South, as mentioned in the reading, they were focused on contemporary issues, a few reminding me of people tearing down the Confederate Memorials. It’s amazing how she can capture so much into these simple drawings.
As mentioned above, I always end up coming back to Walker’s work, which speaks for her work. She’s able to handle hot topics and not scare people off with overly graphic images. I think that’s important for the African-American art movement and history in general, because people are looking and learning.
In her writings in BLACK: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art Thelma Golden explores the ways in which the intersectional identities of black men in contemporary American are portrayed and perpetuated. The idea of the “black male,” says Golden, is an concept of conflicting stereotypes that has risen in the twentieth century. It is contradicting because it hold the aspect of black, which for a long time (and arguably still today and moving forwards) contains negative social implications, carries stereotypes of ‘dirtiness’ or ‘lesser-than-ness.’ This view of African-American’s has been present in american society since the earliest years of slavery. Along side this identity that is wrought with oppression and negative social value, the black male also has the ‘male’ identity. The ‘male’ identity is one that has for thousands of years in western culture been one that carries with it power, authority, strength, leadership, and truthfully dwelled at the top of the social, political, and economic strata. Thelma Golden alludes to two ideas that I find very important: first, the growing awareness of intersectionality. Second, not only does the intersection of the two identities (male and black) creates a new identity that is stigmatized in different ways than the two distinct identities, but the qualities of the individual identities perpetuates the stigmatization of the intersectional identity.
In art with a sociopolitical agenda that we have seen thus far, there is often a one track identity being promoted or explicated. For example, the art work that we studied regarding second-wave feminist art (for the most part) was only focused on women’s problems. Not on the problems of black women or lesbian women or disabled women. Though second wave feminist art like that of Hannah Wilke, Judy Chicago, and Miriam Shapiro had a clear, progressive political agenda it did not take into account the differences of overlapping identities. Art during the 70s and 80s that commented on Gay rights movement and AIDs began to see signs of intersectional awareness, for example the overlapping identities of gay and black in reference to the aids crisis (ex Maplethorppe’s work.) However, the art that Golden outlines takes intersectional awareness to a different level. A good example of this is her discuss on Adrian Piper’s work; Piper, a woman, cross dressed as an african american male and recorded her experience, the reactions she received and peoples reception of her. Looking into “extreme otherness” Piper says. This is a clear cut artistic investigation into the two identities of male and black. This intersectional awareness is something that is extremely current in todays discussions of political and personal identity, so I find Thelma Golden’s discussion on this particular degree of emergence important and enlightening.
Before reading Golden’s investigation into black masculinity I never really thought about how the male identity, an identity I always associated with highest privilege, paired with black identity could actually negatively perpetuate the particular stereotypes of black masculinity. By this I mean traits of masculinity such as strength and power, that are seen as positive in white men, paired with the stereotypical traits, that are seen as negative, of black people as unruly, less refined or civilized, animalistic, or dirty actually creates a ‘person’ who can be even more greatly stigmatizes. The idea of someone who is uncivilized (black stereotype) and strong (male stereotype) is more dangerous, threatening, or problematic than one of those qualities individually. The stereotypes of black masculinity follow this quite naturally: sexual, criminal, athletic. Golden mentions the issues that arise when real-life instances instantiate these stereotypes. This issue can be undermined by using art as a method of critiquing this intersectional stereotype. Lorna Simpson’s piece Gestures/Reenactments (1985) has this effect. The subject of the photograph is a black male, dressed simply, with no face showing, arms crossed over his chest. The words “sometimes Sam stands like his mother” is written below the image. In many ways this picks at gender and race. The faceless aspect makes it clear that this piece is made to represent a group more than an individual. The written portion clearly points to gender-role transgression and the race of the subject points to racial-stereotype transgression.
I think that the ideas in this article about intersectionality are important to understand not just art of the late twentieth century, but also important to understand the way our world is structured and the struggles each unique individual faces.
“When stereotypes attempt to take control of their own bodies, they can only do what they are made of and they are made of the pathological attitudes of the South. Therefore, racist stereotypes in my art can only partake of psychotic activities.”- Kara Walker
What interested me most about Heartney’s reading was the concept of the traditional cut outs which almost appear simplistic in form but have so much depth and meaning to them and the way in which Walker uses the cut outs and even the title of her works, to tell a story and add to their depth. In the reading, it explained that Walker’s works usually represent the lives of slaves on large southern plantations, but instead of representing ‘real’ lives, Walker takes her inspiration from films and movies, like, “Gone With the Wind”, which in themselves, create an ‘imaginary’ world. I also thought that the reasoning behind the ‘very blackness of traditional silhouettes’ and how the black paper erases differences in skin colour was interesting considering the stark differences in the figures, featured in Walker’s work, of those who hold power and of those who do not. Either between slave and slaveowner, man and woman etc which is depicted by clothing, stance etc.
Walker’s works explain narratives through the use of imagery and shed light on society’s view on slavery by playing off of popular movies like, ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’. Within her works, Walker is able to question reality and societal norms while maintaining her renowned ‘style’ of delivering startling and poignant messages of the past and allowing the viewer to question what they know.
Kara Walker, ‘Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart’, 1994.
Yesterday evening I attended Rebecca Murtaugh’s artist talk where she was able to go more in depth about her work. What interested me the most were her ideas behind her organic sculptures and the ways in which she attained her desired final outcome. Murtaugh’s strangest way of sculpting is beating the clay with a paddle until the form changes, leaving it looking textured. Her reasoning behind this method was that as an artist, there are times when she would walk into the studio feeling angry and scared and her first reaction was to use her clay as somewhere to focus that energy and although there was no deep spiritual or political message, the message of her technique speaks of where she is as an artist and her everyday emotions, which is where her piece really becomes a direct translation of her as a human. Her work was beautiful, using old recycled whimsical colours which abstracted the organic forms in a truly eye catching way.
Murtaugh’s exhibition was a collective group of organic forms which workedll together, aided by her selection of geometric tables and shelves which worked well in order to contrast against the soft lines of her sculptures.
In the political climate right now, I’m excited for sculptures/statues like these going up. When I saw this come up earlier this week, I couldn’t help but make the connection to removing Confederate soldier statues. Not that this statue is a replacement for one those, it seems like it could be to me. It’s highlight a high point in American history, when blacks received the right to vote, by honoring Octavius Catto who fought for equality in the 1800s. This feels like a positive response to the political tensions we are living in right now. Rather than be destructive, we’re displaying a positive party of history not many people know about. Catto did so much for the nation and equal rights in the 19th century, but as it’s said in the article, “We know more about Rocky — who’s not even a real person — than we know about Octavius, which says a lot.” The statue was erected in Philadelphia, the same city with the Rocky statue. This statue is a good turn in art education and hopefully national healing.
After viewing Rebecca Murtaugh’s exhibition titled “Substance,” I was very inspired by her entire backstory and why and how she created the work in her exhibition.
To begin, Mrs. Murtaugh explained how she came from a family of “makers” and artists. Therefore, she was bound to appreciate art and have a sense for making it. However, once she got to college she studied chemistry, nutrition and sustainability and her passion for art slightly disappeared. She additionally shared that she tried to take as many art courses in college as possible but since she took a majority of science courses, it was extremely difficult to do so and fit art into her schedule. With all of this background in mind, as she graduated she decided to bring the chemistry lab into the food scenery and work with food in an artistic way. This I thought was specifically interesting because science and nutrition are not entirely correlated, yet she still managed to connect the two.
With this, she continued into her up and coming art career where she uses her methods from chemistry (using different elements, putting them together, burning etc.) in order to make sculpture. In her exhibition she showed a variety of colorful pieces that have a juxtaposing composition to them. As stated, her goal was to combine different materials with contemporary ones such as ones from her own living room and make something with a destructive political statement attached to them. Personally, I think that this is genius because at first look of her sculptures it is hard to understand the subject matter as well as what the actual object is. Nevertheless, when exposed to how she created her sculptures such as hitting it with a baseball ball or creating a entire vagina collection (in relation to Feminist art), I understand the background purpose of it and enjoyed her work truly.
My favorite piece from Mrs. Murtaugh was titled “Three Leaners” using three trees from her backyard as well as three primary colors. I like the fact that it was leaning on the wall and the alchemy she used to produce it. Overall, I thought Mrs. Murtaugh’s work was genius and there was a sense of symbolism and conceptual art feel yet being contemporary.
This week, Art21 featured a video on Julie Mehretu’s Politicized Landscapes. Mehretu’s work consists of huge, wall murals, expanding multiple stories in height that depict abstract ‘landscapes.’ She describes her interest in landscapes through their historical significance, and therefore their politicized nature. She says, “the actual landscape is politicized through the events that take place on it.” The american landscape is one riddled with colonial historic and violence, crafting a narrative still relevant today. Mehretu takes photos of contemporary race riots that are, in her words, “embedded with DNA,” and superimposes historic landscape paintings on to them with her abstract interpretation. Mehretu’s work is highly politicized and provocative, it draws on the connection between spacial location and cultural weight, place and heritage, and the idealized version versus the real version of America in reference to racial justice.
I found Julie Mehretu’s work to be both visually appealing in its large size (which I am sure would be so much better in person) and abstract fluidity. But upon hearing her discuss her process, I was even more drawn into the psychological happening behind the scenes, so to say, of her work. I love the idea of combining historic paintings of the hudson river school and early American work (ex Thomas Cole) with modern day photos of the raw injustice that is present today. I like it because it urges the viewer to think about the way we often bury important realities so that we can focus on an idealized view of what is around us.
Link to video: https://art21.org/watch/extended-play/julie-mehretu-politicized-landscapes-short/
Artist bio: https://art21.org/artist/julie-mehretu/
This documentary enhanced the influence of feminism throughout the contemporary art era. With this, I specifically thought that the idea of women having to be categorised as “bad girls” or “good girls” was extremely interesting.
Initially throughout the documentary there was a negative connotation with women having to be “bad.” This was set out for a man’s pleasure and because of that women wanted to display that they did not have to be that. Therefore, they were misrepresented in art and felt the need to standout as independent, strong women. This is when they began creating art out of completely feminine items in exaggerated terms. For instance, the vaginal blood prints on canvas and the woman who put ink in her hair and dragged it across the canvas. Thereby, they were ultimately showing that long hair is a feminine feature as well as the vagina. As the movie progressed and reached its end, there was a huge emphasis on erotic dancing. This exact type of dancing brings forth the contemporary idea that women do not have to use their “usual” aspects of femininity in order to feel powerful. Instead, they were able to portray that through body movement and them themselves feeling good instead of making a man feel good.
Overall, this documentary opened my eyes to the different ways and ideas women try to display their strength through art.