Who exactly are America’s Black artists?

Soul of a Nation shines a bright light on the vital contribution of Black artists to a dramatic period in American art and history.

So reads every promotional material for Tate Modern’s Soul of a Nation exhibition.

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Detail from Tate Modern’s Soul of A Nation poster/exhibition guide

How does being an American Black artists work then?

More on Soul of a Nation on the Galleria Clic blog.

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Norman Lewis, Processional, 1965: A Not So Black and White Perspective

Processional (1965) by Norman Lewis is just one of the many engaging artworks in the Soul of a Nation exhibition at the Tate Modern, London. While being one amongst the many, Processional stands out as uniquely striking in its simplicity. However this simplicity of form does not translate into an easy reading of the painting itself and in spite of being an abstract piece the feeling the image gives is that there is something to be read into its abstraction.

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Norman Lewis, Processional, 1965

Seeing the story to be read out of or into Processional depends on where you are standing as you contemplate the image. Facing the painting head on and you might not get the message of the painting, unless you have a conscious understanding of perspective; hence pun intended you might not get a sense of its perspective. Writers on visual culture like to tell us that perspective is a cornerstone of the western way of seeing and hence westerners automatically see perspective.1 It is recognising this Western way of seeing that would lead you to understanding the message that Lewis is aiming to convey.

In obeying the visual prescription of perspective Lewis is communicating that he understands and is a signed up member to the values of the civilisation that he is painting within. His communication in this instance was with the critics contemporary to the period of the original display of Processional. It is when you apply the rule of perspective that you also gain a sense of the aforementioned values that Lewis is presenting. In Processional the questions raised on values are manifold.

There is a dichotomy to the values that Lewis addresses in Processional, hence the strong contrast of black and white he employed in the painting is very telling. Lewis in this instance takes full advantage of the remit to produce pieces in monochrome black and white that was given to Spiral; the artist group Lewis was a part of.2 Processional along with the monochrome works of other Spiral artists were shown in a group exhibition in 1965.3 Lewis’ black and white Processional is not so black and white; the dichotomies on display are not so cut and dried. For example is this a painting of a procession of the KKK in the dark of the night or is this an abstraction of the proverbial light at the end of the civil rights tunnel? Furthermore, a plausible assumption is that this an abstraction of a procession of a congregation of Negro spiritualists, however this begs the question of what is the significance of the bold black borders? Lewis’s abstraction is purposefully minimalist yet effective in its complexities.

Notes
1. David Bate, The Key Concepts of Photography (Second Edition) (London; Oxford; New York: Bloomsbury, 2016)
2. Tate Modern, http://www.tate.org.uk/art/sound-of-a-nation
3. Tate Modern, http://www.tate.org.uk/art/sound-of-a-nation

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Documenta 14: Parthenon of Books

Marta Minujín’s Parthenon of Books is easily the centrepiece of Documenta 14, the 2017 instalment of the five-yearly Documenta held in Kassel, Germany. The Parthenon of Books qualifies as the centrepiece because it stands out physically, as an idea and a philosophy. The philosophical question I drew from it is: What is truth and why should we be afraid of it?

The idea that the written word in one part of the world causes turmoil in another part of world is interesting. While being interesting it is also very real and happening. While I am not sure about the pen being mightier than the sword in the Parthenon of Books we see them going head to head.

Marta Minujín, Parthenon of Books

Marta Minujín’s Parthenon of Books at Documenta 14

Harry Potter is Dangerous!

Harry Potter is Dangerous in some parts of the world! (Parthenon of Books), Documenta 14, 2017

See more Documenta 14 highlights here.

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DocumentA 13 and Memories of the Arab Spring

By the time DocumentA 13 opened in June 2012, the Arab Spring had hit its peak and was on the wane. None the less, it was at this stage when it was fading into history that the Arab Spring became an ideal narrative for the ever so topical and political Documenta. Addressing the Arab Spring and the obvious fact of lives that were lost to the cause was the installation by Sanja Iveković entitled The Disobedient (The Revolutionaries), 2012 which topically traced political martyrs down the annals of history.

The installation included scores of political martyrs however, for various personal reasons, these four resonated with me the most.

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Sanja Iveković, Detail from The Disobedient (The Revolutionaries), 2012

Mohamed Bouazizi
… was (the) Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire on 17December 2010, in protest at the confiscation of his wares and the harassment and humiliation that he reported was inflicted on him by a municipal official and her aides. His act became a catalyst for the Tunisian Revolution and the wider Arab Spring… (Text from DocumentA 13 installation)

 

 


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Sanja Iveković, Detail from The Disobedient (The Revolutionaries), 2012

Saro-Wiwa

… was a Nigerian author, television producer environmental activist. He was a member of the Ogoni people (of) Nigeria whose homeland has been targeted for crude oil extraction since the 1950s. (He was) President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, (leading) a nonviolent campaign against environmental degradation of (Ogoni) land and water (and) an outspoken critic of the Nigerian government. At the peak of his non-violent campaign Saro-Wiwa was arrested, hastily tried by a special military tribunal, and hanged in 1995… (Text from DocumentA 13 installation)

 


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Sanja Iveković, Detail from The Disobedient (The Revolutionaries), 2012

Che Guevera

…commonly known as el Che…was an Argentine Marxist revolutionary, physician, author, intellectual, guerrilla leader, diplomat and military theorist. (…) Moments before Guevera was executed he was asked by a Bolivian soldier if he was thinking about his own immortality. “No”, he replied “I’m thinking about the immortality of the revolution.  (Text from DocumentA 13 installation)

 

 

 

 


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Sanja Iveković, Detail from The Disobedient (The Revolutionaries), 2012

Walter Benjamin
… a German-Jweish intellectual (polymath)…(whose) work combining elements of historical materialism, German idealism and Jewish mysticism, has made enduring and influential contributions to aesthetic theory and Western Marxism, and has sometimes been associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory. As the Wehrmacht defeated the French Defence, on 13 June, Benjamin and his sister fled Paris a day before the German entered Paris (14 June 1940), with orders to arrest him at his flat. (Benjamin escaped however) (e)xpecting repatriation to Nazi hands (he) killed himself … on 25 September 1940. (Text from DocumentA 13 installation)


Word is Sanja Iveković is exhibiting in Documenta 14 also!

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Countdown to Documenta 14

I am off the Document 14! This is a great treat, especially as I had pleasure of attending DocumentA 13 in 2012. It is amazing to have the opportunity to attend consecutive Documenta instalments, which occur once every five years. When I attended DocumentA 13 I was just about to begin my Masters programme in History of Art with Photography. Now as I am looking forward to Documenta 14 I am someway through a PhD researching West African photography history and theory.

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DocumentA 13, 2012. Photo: Galleria Clic

So how have I grown in my 2 Documenta years? The most significant knowledge I have come to must be the understanding that aesthetics and visuality are dominated by a Western ideal that are not universally shared. This might seem trivial on the one hand and at the same time an obvious everyday point that it needs no articulation. However, on the triviality front, having a Western ideal obsessed media, from the BBC to the paid-for broadcasting entities, can be linked directly to the serious issue of young people struggling to identify with the culture and society they grew up in, to the extent that they decide to become a jihadi fighter. For anyone struggling to see the link, the key is in understanding the diet of visuality and aesthetics these young people are raised on. Ask yourself: who is always the baddie and who is the default saviour of the planet, in the media they consume? While the Western hegemony of visuality and the media might seem obvious, understanding this for what it is and knowing how to address it, as an issue are complex. Suffice to say, at this point, doing justice to the issue of Western hegemony of the media has to be a diatribe for another blog post.

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The Occupy Movement at DocumetA 13, 2012. Photo: Galleria Clic

In 2012 I remember the Occupy Movement was at its peak and it was duly represented at DocumentA 13. Also the pivotal attraction at DocumentA 13 itself was the crowdsourcing attempt to lobby UNESCO to add the earth’s atmosphere to its World Heritage List (link to World Heritage List site). Fast-forward to Documenta 14 in 2017 and it seems in some sense nothing has changed. In fact five year down the line, from 2012, we humans, as a specie especially in the West, seem to be regressing. Cue Brexit, abuse of the labour market in the gig economy, Trump and the pulling out of the US from the Paris Climate Agreement. Never mind life imitating art, here we have art playing the role of prophet in anticipation of world events! While science can be acknowledged for addressing the material trajectory of the globe, the arts and humanities should be equally respected and supported as they attempt to stir humans’ mind and steer our philosophies as we try to rule the world.

Moving swiftly on, and abruptly away from an unintended rant, my intention for this piece was to announce a series of posts on Documenta in the run up to my visit to Documenta 14. The posts would be mainly the photographs of my highlights from DocumentA 13.

See the list of Galleria Clic’s blog posts on DocumentA 13.

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Gele ati Asọ́-Oke Exhibition: Aiming for the Footsteps of Success

The Gele ati Asọ́-Oke exhibition is aiming to follow in the footsteps of the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) Lagos’s 2014 crowdfunded publication of a monograph on Nigerian Photographer J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere. J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere along with Benedy and Sons, Dr Okubanjo and others were the legendary photographers, affiliated with the Universality of Ibadan, who were documenting the city of Ibadan at its height as the seat of government for the then Western Region of Nigeria of the 1950s and 60s.

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J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere monograph, 2014

161 backers worldwide helped launch the publication of the J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere monograph, contributing an average of about £100 each to raise £15,500 exceeding the crowd funding campaign’s target of £13,500. The Gele ati Asọ́-Oke exhibition crowdfunding campaign is hoping to emulate this success.

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The origins of the label “Yoruba photography”

Yoruba photography is not a new term. It is at least five decades old. The anthropologist Stephen Sprague as far back as 1979 used the label Yoruba photography in his seminal academic article on the Yoruba people and the unique ways they incorporated and used photography in their culture. Some 40 years before Sprague, the German Afrophile Diedrich Westerman singled out the adoption of photography by the Obas (Yoruba kings), in the late nineteenth century, as an example of a culturally specific use of the technology, stopping short of using the label Yoruba photography.

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Yoruba woman with baby. Photograph: © Olu Alabi c.1970s

Post 1979 all has remained relatively quiet on Yoruba photography. Many have danced around it, for example, looking at how Yoruba photographers have helped spread the technology and skill throughout West Africa. A lot needs to be done on locating Yoruba photography in the Yoruba land itself. This is for the simple reason of showing how cultures are able to adopt technologies, put their stamp on it and become part of a global network and economy.

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