The Case for *Representational* Art + Culture

Now, as always, we need representational arts and culture in our lives, and we need the spaces, the safe ones, in times like these.

What I am talking about when I’m talking about representational arts and culture is art that centers the Black (and brown and other and in between) figure/story/history in its conversations, its actions, its figurations, its staged plays, its buildings, its permanent collections, etc etc etc.

Here’s a quote that ushered me into 2017, and at the end of it, I decided that I needed it to ground me for as long as I live.

“OF COURSE, I HOPE SOMEDAY THAT IT CAN BE SAID THAT I SHOWED ANOTHER WAY TO THE SUMMIT OF ACHIEVEMENT IN PAINTING. TO BE SURE, THE MODE OF BLACK FIGURE REPRESENTATION I EMPLOY IS A CLAEAR DEPARTURE FROM MOST POPULAR TREATMENTS OF THE BLACK BODY. I AM TRYING TO ESTABLISH A PHENOMENAL PRESENCE THAT IS UNEQUIVOCALLY BLACK AND BEAUTIFUL. IT IS MY CONVICTION THAT THE MOST INSTRUMENTAL, INSURGENT, PAINTING FOR THIS MOMENT MUST BE OF FIGURES, AND THOSE FIGURES MUST BE BLACK, UNAPOLOGETICALLY SO.”

This does two things: for the viewer/participant of the representational arts + culture, it gives one a sense of belonging, a mirror, a communal space for experiencing beauty. See the photo above. On a Monday in January in New York City, at The Met, I was standing next to more Black and brown folks I had ever seen before, who had gathered to experience the exceptional and breath taking and beautiful works of Kerry James Marshell.

It was my second time. The first time I saw the works, it was during the opening of the exhibit, in a private VIP thing, which means, there were very few people who looked like me, who looked like the paintings–the floor to ceiling paintings–in the space. I couldn’t linger with some of the art in the ways that I wanted to. Behind me were people who were passing through the exhibit quickly, catching up on what other exhibits they were working on or funding or or. But I knew, when I saw some of the pieces, that I had to come back, and bring my husband, and we had to spend as much time as we wanted, in order to see, to feel, to be affirmed.

That is what I think these spaces can give us at a time like this. After the events in Charlottesville, VA transpired this weekend, I saw friends post art works, poems, song lyrics, by Black artists and we were sending messages to each other through the social media atmosphere: here is some healing for you, here is some healing for me. Here is the hard truth for others. But at the heart of it: we are hurting. Here is some art.

So here’s the thing: there are so many creators and artists and makers of representative safe spaces for culture and art that are struggling to literally keep their lights on. But that’s not why I want to direct your attention there. I want to direct your attention to spaces that were created out of the necessity for refuge and that were created out of a systematic approach to exclusion of a diversity of perspectives and voices that rather than not exist at all, they exist at least to be a place we can go to when literally there are men with torches of fire standing outside our door threatening our very lives.

Here’s some organizations that have centered the Black or Other figure/voice/history/story through arts and culture and that–if you’re thinking about what you can do–can use a shoring up of resources (read: $$$$ or, you showing up to some events) as they face a Monday/a new week/ the same regime with yet again a country set on destroying all things that are not white.

Of course, I have committed my life to the stabilization of spaces like these, and others. There’s some exciting news on the horizon for that, but if you want to be an integral part of my journey to invest and impact the field of representational arts + culture, I invite you to join me. 

 

 

 

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