Within the past few weeks I have attended a couple of themed exhibits. In the past… a rather distant past I have coordinated a few, and just recently I have participated in a couple. I enjoyed them immensely. The more defined or perhaps focused the subject, the more precise the work presented need to be to address whatever the theme of the show may entail. One of my coordinated group shows, year’s back was titled, Those Dirty Blues. Not terribly substantive by todays standards but I had just completed two pieces, one featuring Dinah Washington and the other Cannonball Adderley and felt that if I could gather enough like-minded artists together it could be an interesting and fun show.
The recently visited themed shows that I have seen were interesting as well, but fun was not part of the discourse. As a result of modern technology, such as mobile phones, the internet and social media, the ills of racism has been magnified to the extent that it has become practically an unavoidable subject. It is almost like this age of technology has allowed us to peek under the covers or behind the curtains to see that racism is still a fundamental and pervasive part of our culture. For many African-Americans that have manage to take one or two steps up the latter of success or feel that we currently live in some post-racial society, this could be a rude awakening. The vantage point from where I live near Capital Hill could have the potential of obscuring ones vision – sort of like not seeing the forest through the trees effect. But regardless of ones vantage point or perspective, the murders, the abuse, the disrespect, the unemployment, the homelessness, the underemployment, the undereducated and miss-educated – the racism, remain a very prevalent part of our society.
Within the past few years more and more galleries are finding creative ways of featuring artwork that address the many and varied levels of racism that has always plagued our society… and they should be commended for it.
In these rather intimate gallery settings, the art and the artists (if attending an artists talk) serves as an available and invaluable platform for communication and dialogue for an issue that is seldom spoken about in public. The other day while in one of these settings, I heard a young African-American artist vocalize his anguish, frustration and dismay to a crowd of gallery-goers that he most likely did not know in an effort to inform both black & whites in attendance of his feelings and experiences as a young African-American in DC. Not the typical artists talk but the kind of discussion that could encourage or motivate those listening to go out and do whatever one can in an effort to not only relieve his discomfort, but all that experiences or will experience the injustices and racism that permeate our society. I prefer to call those people, quiet activist. Quiet activist are not motivated by huge crowds or expectant of any special persons award. The simple act or effort of going forward and doing the right thing as best they can is their reward.
Historically, activism in art has been around for many years. The Mexican revolutionary art of the mid 1930’s by Diego Rivera is just one example. One of my personal favorites is the Harlem Renaissance artist, Aaron Douglass. Many of today’s artists engage in some form of quiet activism, be it for the purposes of combating racism, sexism, anti gay rights or a slew of other causes that one feel motivated about.
As wonderful and informative and heartfelt and motivating as the artwork has been in the shows that I have attended, I have a desire to see… more.
What we see in galleries or the injustices of man’s inhumanity against man, that has been displayed on the streets, educational institutions, religious institutions, and via employment for far too long is the “product” of institutionalized racism. As most know, there are many layers involved in the institution of racism and the history of both black and white’s that although eludes most, may help to provide some level of clarity to a situation where people often wonder how and why such things happen. Such layers have involved the altering of both history and religion and even the nature of the existence of man – it has been a long and involved process. This layering through the centuries has been so deep, so profound and so ingrained in our daily existence, that it has a people that actually created math and science, astronomy and astrology, writing and philosophy – civilization, feel that they have simply existed in a world of mediocrity with little or no virtue or contributions, and those that actually copied from them are viewed as the authors of principal and intellectual capital. Although I’m one of the victims of this diabolical and often butcherious scheme, I have to admit that it has been a well-developed and thorough propagandistic marketing campaign. However, if this were a movie I’d be inclined to fast-forward to the part when the heroic music starts to fade in, and the victims of racism and injustice began to realize that that V on their chest was not for victim at all – simply covered up and distorted like so many other things in history… perhaps it’s a toppled over ancient pyramid!
So, although I feel that the present artwork being displayed is woefully necessary, poignant, revealing and helpful in the process of healing and casting light on a subject and situation that for African-Americans and other like-minded people who feel that racism does not only hurt the individual or group, but society as a whole, when and if the artwork, conversation and dialogue evolve from documenting the victims of racism to investigating, examining, documenting and putting to canvas the history, intent and mentality of the perpetrators of racism – the how’s and why’s and how all this madness and barbarity came to be, the shows will either be sold-out or closed down… and the next layer of conversations and plans about how to rise above this purgatory state of being will hopefully take place.
But that’s just my humble opinion - the rambling of an idealistic artist.