Art As Protest

Art as Protest: Women's March on Washington

1/21/2017: a beginning and the continuation of making our way down a path already laid out for us in eras past. 

I didn't have it in me to march, but I did have a desire to contribute my work in some way. Thankfully when I offered up "Social Construct", women from around the country responded, and carried it with them as they took to the streets. Some friends even wore the Her Power tee. As I looked at the pictures some posted and sent to me, I felt a sense of relief, humility, and gratitude. It affirmed what I know in my gut to be true: this is how I can effectively resist. This is my role. There will be other ways to be civically engaged, yes, but creating work that forces people to confront themselves and what exists in our society will be my main contribution. More on this later, but for now, some photos, which had me fighting tears as I looked at them all. 

May 1/21/2017 be the beginning of a new wave of resistance. Resist, resist, resist. 

Vermont  

Vermont  

Chicago

Chicago

San Jose

San Jose

D.C. 

D.C. 

D.C.  

D.C.  

D.C.  

D.C.  

For photos from today of marches that took places in cities across the country and around the world, the New York Times has a gallery here

Art as Protest: Leila Weefur's "Dead Nigga Blvd."

This morning while scrolling through Betti Ono Gallery's Facebook feed, I came across the work of stop motion animation artist Leila Weefur. They posted a video of hers called"Dead Nigga Blvd." that is a must see.

 "Dead Nigga Blvd. exists somewhere between life on Earth and the afterlife. Emmett Till, Oscar Grant, and Trayvon Martin dwell in frustration and confusion as they are forced to confront their deaths in the same way we all have confronted their deaths, through a broadcast. These three young men represent only a small percentage of deaths caused by racial injustices but their faces have become iconic in the conversation of American racism." 

You can watch it here:  https://vimeo.com/leilaweefur/deadniggablvd

and also check out her piece titled "To Be Constructed"  

 

 

 

 

Art as Protest: Nate Parker's 'Birth of a Nation' Trailer is Here

After stunning the crowds and critics at Sundance, winning The Grand Jury Prize and Audience award, and garnering a record breaking $17.5 million deal from Fox Searchlight, Nate Parker's Birth of a Nation has had folks like myself eagerly awaiting a trailer. It's the story of Nat Turner's uprising in Virginia before the Civil War, a story that Nate himself said he wanted to tell, to #ReclaimTheNarrative around the history of slavery in this country.

Credit: JAHI CHIKWENDIU

Credit: JAHI CHIKWENDIU

The first teaser trailer was released today and...well...intense is an understatement. It instantly had me as Nina Simone's cover of  "Strange Fruit" plays over and in the background of the scenes. Take a look...

I'm sitting here with chills. Initially I wasn't sure if I wanted to see another movie about slavery and Black pain...but when I realized who did the writing and directing...and that it was coming from our perspective, I decided that yes, this is a movie I need to see. I'm all for #ReclaimingTheNarrative and for those of us in the margins having the means to tell our histories-silent and otherwise-free of White washing and concern for White comfort. I'm grateful to artists like Nate who are using their art to challenge, uplift, and foster dialogue around critical issues of injustice.  

 “I made this film for one reason, with the hope of creating change agents. That people can watch this film and be affected,” he said. “That you can watch this film and see that there were systems that were in place that were corrupt and corrupted people and the legacy of that still lives with us. I just want you, if you are affected and you are so moved, to ask yourself, ‘Are there systems in my life that need attention whether it be racial, gender?’ There are a lot of injustices.”-Nate Parker

 Birth of a Nation is set for release in October of this year. 

Paint and Meditation: Audre Lorde's "Uses of Anger"

image.jpg

"Women of Color in America have grown up within a symphony of anger at being silenced at being unchosen, at knowing that when we survive, it is in spite of a world that takes for granted our lack of humanness, and which hates our very existence outside of its service. And I say symphony rather than cacophony because we have had to learn to orchestrate those furies so that they do not tear us apart. We have had to learn to move through them and use them for strength and force and insight within our daily lives. Those of us who did not learn this difficult lesson did not survive. And part of my anger is always libation for my fallen sisters.

Anger is an appropriate reaction to racist attitudes, as is fury when the actions arising from those attitudes do not change. To those women here who fear the anger of women of Color more than their own unscrutinized racist attitudes, I ask:  Is the anger of women of Color more threatening than the woman-hatred that tinges all aspects of our lives? It is not the anger of other women that will destroy us but our refusals to stand still, to listen to its rhythms, to learn within it, to move beyond the manner of presentation to the substance, to tap that anger as an important source of empowerment. I cannot hide my anger to spare you guilt, nor hurt feelings, nor answering anger; for to do so insults and trivializes all our efforts. Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness."

-From Audre Lorde's "The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism", 1981

Beyoncé on Feminism, Art as a Vehicle For Protest, Women's Mental Health, and Empowering The Next Generation of Female Artists in Elle

image.jpg

While I've enjoyed Beyonce as a performer/artist (and have had my criticisms of her over the years as I've grown up with her-we're the same age), I've rarely regarded her as a quotable person...or an artist I'd expect to hear something substantial from regarding politics or social justice matters. I've also not always been a fan of her past interviews; I feel that while they gave us insight into her as an artist or entertainer, we weren't given insight into who she is as a person and what she thinks about the world or culture, beyond Beyonce The Brand. They all felt very...standard. The few she's given since the release of Beyonce, however, where she's expressed her thoughts on feminism, motherhood, and being an artist in a slightly less guarded way, have been intriguing reads for me though. I've found myself identifying and relating to her words and experiences in a way I haven't in years, probably because I see some of my own growth and journey with these same issues in hers. I see her evolving in her understanding of them, much as I have over the last 5-6 years, and honestly respect it, even if it's considered by others to be "simplistic". (I've never taken a women's studies or feminist theory course, so I consider my own understanding to be simplistic too-there's still much I have yet to learn.)

image.jpg

Her new interview with Elle Magazine for their May "Women in Music" issue is her best yet, in my opinion. In it she discusses her thoughts on feminism, motherhood, the backlash to "Formation", her desire to use her art and voice to speak to issues that matter, supporting and empowering younger female artists, and the importance of women taking care of their mental health. (A high profile Black woman who is a global star specifically mentioning mental health? I spent much of yesterday shouting "THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT!" and fist pumping after reading it) 

On feminism...

"I put the definition of feminist in my song ["Flawless"] and on my tour, not for propaganda or to proclaim to the world that I'm a feminist, but to give clarity to the true meaning. I'm not really sure people know or understand what a feminist is, but it's very simple. It's someone who believes in equal rights for men and women. I don't understand the negative connotation of the word, or why it should exclude the opposite sex. If you are a man who believes your daughter should have the same opportunities and rights as your son, then you're a feminist. We need men and women to understand the double standards that still exist in this world, and we need to have a real conversation so we can begin to make changes. Ask anyone, man or woman, "Do you want your daughter to have 75 cents when she deserves $1?" What do you think the answer would be? When we talk about equal rights, there are issues that face women disproportionately. That is why I wanted to work with [the philanthropic organizations] Chime for Change and Global Citizen. They understand how issues related to education, health, and sanitation around the world affect a woman's entire existence and that of her children. They're putting programs in place to help those young girls who literally face death because they want to learn, and to prevent women from dying during childbirth because there's no access to health care. Working to make those inequalities go away is being a feminist, but more importantly, it makes me a humanist. I don't like or embrace any label. I don't want calling myself a feminist to make it feel like that's my one priority, over racism or sexism or anything else. I'm just exhausted by labels and tired of being boxed in. If you believe in equal rights, the same way society allows a man to express his darkness, to express his pain, to express his sexuality, to express his opinion—I feel that women have the same rights."

On the "Formation" backlash and using her art as a means of protest: 

image.jpg

On mental health and the cultural messaging that can keep women from prioritizing it: 

"Women have to take the time to focus on our mental health—take time for self, for the spiritual, without feeling guilty or selfish."

On supporting (and signing) younger female artists via her new label:

"I want to take all my resources and give these artists the support of the best, to nurture them and allow them to be who they are really are."

image.jpg

Her new artists... 

image.jpg
image.jpg
image.jpg

I can't lie-I know folks will have their criticisms to share, but it thrills my feminist and artist heart to see Beyoncé really stepping into her full power as a woman, artist, and entrepreneur. Watching her evolution over the last few years has been challenging and liberating for me and my own artistry in ways I didn't expect. She's using her voice and art to foster conversation around issues that impact people of color, and women and girls in new, bolder ways and I'm here for it. And just as she's done in the past by employing an all female band, she's now amplifying the voices of other female artists by creating spaces for them to share their art with the world. (Much like Janelle Monae is doing for artists with her Wondaland label, and Solange with her Saint Heron label and shop) As a woman, mother, and artist trying to do the same as I navigate my 30's, I respect it and find her grind motivating. 

I see you, Beyonce. Salute, sis. <insert power fist> <get in formation>

You can read the cover story here

 

 

Surviving, Living and Thriving Within White (And Other Oppressive) Spaces: A Visual Study

"An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times. I think that is true of painters, sculptors, poets, musicians. As far as I’m concerned, it’s their choice, but I CHOOSE to reflect the times and situations in which I find myself. That, to me, is my duty. And at this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate, when everyday is a matter of survival, I don’t think you can help but be involved. Young people, black and white, know this. That’s why they’re so involved in politics. We will shape and mold this country or it will not be molded and shaped at all anymore. So I don’t think you have a choice. How can you be an artist and NOT reflect the times? That to me is the definition of an artist." -Nina Simone

I had a friend ask me last week why I was turning down an opportunity to write for their publication, and why I don't use this space to adamantly speak out against issues of injustice as I used to. Why am I not writing words about Trump and the impact of the GOP's racist, xenophobic rhetoric beyond a an occasional Facebook status? Why am I not sharing more of my thoughts on the near daily incidents of brutality against Black and Brown lives, or continuing to speak out on racism's impact on our daily lives? From her perspective it seemed to her that I've grown quiet, and she was curious to know why. "You seem more focused on painting, which isn't a bad thing...it just seems odd," she said. 

Well...she's right. I have gone a bit quiet here. I don't write about racism and brutality like I used to. At least not here, and aside from an occasional election related status on Facebook, I've cut back on doing so there as well. Where she's wrong is in her assumption that my going quiet means I've stopped caring or paying attention. I haven't. If anything, the swelling tide of ignorance, violence, and injustice churns and crashes into my consciousness daily. I'm still "woke", and couldn't close my eyes or heart to what's happening to our bodies and within our society if I wanted to. As a Black woman, an empath, and as an artist it's impossible, and even if it were, I would still encounter and bear the social construct of race upon my being. Short of leaving this life, it's inescapable. 

I mentioned before that I've been struggling to put words to what I'm witnessing. That's still very much true-there are days where I simply do not know what to say, and any words that do appear feel...inadequate. When this happens I make the choice to share and amplify the words and brilliance of others above the noise instead of adding my own. I also make the choice to follow my intuition and turn to paint to process my thoughts. 

image.jpg

am more focused on creating a statement on paper or canvas than on a computer screen. Paint...feels more natural to me right now than words do. I'd much rather allow it to speak for me those things I can't quite verbalize or translate into something intelligible you'll understand. So that's what I've been doing. I've shifted my focus from the oppression and brutality we experience as marginalized people to the impact both have on us, challenging myself to communicate it visually. What does it do to our psyche, our spirits, our health, our bodies? What does the point of impact look like? What occurs inside of us as we encounter oppression, fight to survive it, and dare even, to thrive in its pervasive shadow? 

image.jpg

Internal processes. That's been my visual focus and exploration as I take in the news each day, or experience something that reminds me I am an Other. As a result, much of my latest work has involved me using lots of white space. With each piece, I'm thinking about what it looks like to thrive and be unapologetically Other in white spaces, and questioning what those internal thought & heart processes look like. 

image.jpg
image.jpg

Sometimes I have an idea, and an image will come and imprint itself upon my consciousness, quietly (or loudly) telling me its story. Other times I simply have no idea what's going to come out-it just becomes a matter of listening to my intuition and trusting where it's taking me as I work. 

image.jpg

I'm still here and I still have much to say. Like Nina, I believe as an artist, it's my duty to continue using my voice and creative expression to speak to issues that are a matter of life and death for us. I have no choice but to reflect these times in my work, be it written or visual. I'm just consciously doing so these days in a different medium, still hoping to cause others to pause and think critically about what they think they know about themselves and Others. I believe in the power of visual art to spark and foster conversation around these issues just like words do. 

I could use words, sure...but it's just more liberating to process and study with paint. For right now, this is my activism and how I choose to be involved. I think as artists...it's less about the medium, and more about using what we have to create those things that challenge, empower, and set free. Write, paint, sculpt, sing, dance, orate, document a moment or event with a photo-whatever it takes. I think it's about yielding to wherever our creativity leads us intuitively. Our challenge is to reflect and give voice to the times we're in. Like Nina, I think anything less is a waste. We have nothing to lose but our chains.

"  It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains."- Assata Shakur

image.jpg

Art As Protest? Rihanna's "American Oxygen"

"Breathe out...breathe in...This is the new America. We are the new America."  

The triumphs, complexities, contradictions, and dangers of The American Dream and its institutions artfully crafted in song and visual...

Or a weak attempt at social & political commentary through song & visual & pop culture's distorted lens?

Watch, listen, analyze, and decide for yourself.