Thursday, December 17, 2009

I just found this article while doing a random search. It was written by Marlon H. Banks, an African American artist living in Madison, WI. He's also a former fellow at the Studio Museum in Harlem. (I couldn't find any of his work.) I thought that he discussed the dilemma of [not] fitting into the art world as a black artist, without having to conform or alter your work, very well. I wanted to be sure to share this because I truly understand what he's going through. It is a constant battle, especially since my work is so BLACK. Galleries look past me, not just because they may think that my work is mediocre, but because my strong, poignant images of black people may be too much for some to look at. Anyhow, please view the article below.

Not in my backyard
Finding a gallery to work with can be hard for any artist, and it's even more difficult when the artist and his work are said to be "too black." If the artist takes a "centrist" approach, using, for example, abstraction or irony in his or her work, the likelihood of gallery representation seems to increase. Such maneuvers, however, threaten the work of African-American artists with dilution or "gentrification." This is why I insist, in my representational images, on being as black as I am.

Today, the image of black folk in the fine arts often appears owned and maintained by curators, university art departments, and commercial galleries. The same beneficiaries of white privilege create and maintain parameters to define the relative purity of art made by black people. Often, art said to be "too black" has been pushed by the artist to a level of realism that can make whites uncomfortable. Ironically, these parameters are maintained by men who get no darker than a Wisconsin summer tan; they also believe there's no market for art that's too black and too representational.

Of all types of art made by African Americans, it can seem that folk, outsider, and what some refer to as primitive receive the widest exposure. But it's also true that African Americans are making inroads in other ways. Some artists achieve greater involvement in the larger (white) art world by focusing on abstraction. More and more, artists are intentionally using negative stereotypes to make complicated points about black history and culture (this has been called "hyper-black" or "post-black"). These artists are often able to combine humor and irony with formal innovation, sometimes with sublime results. Notwithstanding the word "primitive," each strategy above is important. Each breaks down boundaries in its own way.

Still, I cannot describe my own work in terms of self-deprecating humor or irony. Nor do I subscribe to the idea of eliminating evidence of ethnicity in exchange for a strict diet of abstraction. However, I am comfortable with the Studio Museum in Harlem's description of my work as "Black Romantic." For me, this show was not about traditional romanticism but more about a group of artists who are willing to address the broad span or full palette of African-American culture, in terms of both audience and subject matter.

Now, I would like to see more interest in and support for our art in my own backyard. Why should we have to travel elsewhere to find sustained interest in our work (a question asked by many of the thirty "Black Romantics")? For those of us who have already come from other places throughout the country, there is no "someplace else." Support and visibility should be possible in the places we call home, without expectations on anyone's part that we are folk, primitive, or outsider artists.

--Marlon H. Banks, Madison, WI

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Posted by Posted by :::Renaissance Woman::: at 6:30 PM