Monday, September 30, 2019

The Black Effect: Black Expression in White Spaces 

By Alexis Joseph

“Protest is telling the truth in public. Sometimes protest is telling the truth to a public that isn’t quite ready to hear it. Protest is, in its own way, a storytelling. We use our bodies, our words, our art, and our sounds to tell the truth about the pain we endure..” – Deray Mckesson.

             When learning about the history of art, I was shown images of the wealthy white men and women painted by white men. When learning the history of the United States, I was taught about the white landowners from textbooks written by white men. It wasn’t until I was older, that I realized I was blatantly unaware of black authors, black artists, black scholars, or even noteworthy people of color in general.
   After researching contemporary art and artist, I again witnessed the absence of black artists and faces. The essence of contemporary art is the unconventional way of conveying culture, community, and the current life surrounding us in new and shocking ways. It is difficult to discuss contemporary art and not discuss minorities and the dichotomy between the oppressed and the oppressor in today's world.
           Many black contemporary artists use multiple mediums of art to celebrate and highlight black culture while addressing social change. More importantly, they use art to illustrate the world surrounding them from their perspective. The impact of this art is intensified when displayed in typically white environments. For example, Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of President Barack Obama was not only iconic due to his skill and vision but was especially moving to see the first black president painted by a black contemporary artist. For this piece to be hung in the White House is a protest in itself. Kehinde Wiley's mission is to place black males in spaces created for powerful white men, thus by having a portrait of the first black president hung in the white house, he is furthering his message. 

             Kehinde Wiley's body of work is captivating due to the juxtaposition of his style and message. Wiley uses the style of classical European paintings of noblemen and royalty and inserts images of the “everyday black male” into his paintings. His paintings are the epitome of black expression in white spaces. Using a style that was originally created for wealthy white men and morphing it into a celebration of blackness and black culture in a clear and expressive way sparks a conversation about how black people and black culture fit into the art world.
         Wiley is not alone in his expression of blackness through contemporary art. Kerry James Marshall is a contemporary artist who uses sculptures, collage, video, painting, and photography to comment on black identity in the United States and Western art. Marshall's portraits and installations tell a story of the black individuals and how their community interacts with the world. Marshall’s comment, “it is possible to transcend what is perceived to be the limitations of race-conscious kind of work. It is a limitation only if you accept someone else’s foreclosure from the outside”, further illustrates the use of contemporary art to push boundaries and change the way art is perceived and understood. It is also used to push one’s own boundaries and explore their identity and community through the expressive and open nature of contemporary art.
  By expressing black culture and identity through contemporary art in white spaces, it gives more depth to the meaning of community and to the world around us. It provides multiple perspectives and stories that can complete and complement one another.


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