Friday, December 03, 2010

the "black artist vs. artist who happens to be black" argument...

there's a(nother) "being a black artist vs. being an artist who happens to be black" discussion going
on at black art in america. i think we spend too much time discussing this issue, only because it
never seems to lead to a fulfilling conclusion one way or the other... people, for their own various
reasons, are often entrenched in their beliefs (and even their lack-of-beliefs) concerning the matter.
BAIA is good because it brings many artists together who otherwise would not or may not have been
aware of one another. every generation seems to have this discussion. at some point i'd like to see us
focus more on our collectively individualistic destinations as opposed to our walking in circles
while debating which of us has the most recent cultural thesaurus.

click the link above to view the discussion in its entirety; the following is my latest response:

the ideologies of 'blackness' are always shifting/changing - colored, negro, black, afro, african, universal, etc - and in the wake of us traveling toward a more complete self-definition or running away from full-time labels with part-time social impact, how does an artist make his/her craft remain 'relevant' to transient, cultural philosophies? to be relevant means we have to direct our work towards a fixed ideal. a focal point. and in this 21st century focal points seem to be the last of our concerns.

i fully admit to being jaded. i firmly consider myself a black artist. i seriously attempt to make work that expands the definition of pan-africanism more than it attempts to redefine it. being 'black' is a tribal belief for me, the art and literature i create are my rites of passage into that tradition. i'm 'a race man'. for me, discussing 'blackness' equates to comparing the differences between 2 floods 50 years apart: "yeah, the water was really deep last year, but you shoulda seen the flood in 1962! that was a flood!" a flood is a natural action. the only thing that changes during floods is a person's proximity to them - the closer you are at that moment the more detailed your views about it. "blackness" is the same way. either we choose to be right up on it / in the middle of it or we paddle away, trusting that the natural calamities of higher ground will be more kind to us. i've used that analogy before and someone suggested that maybe a flood is akin to a baptism... it can be, but that's a romanticism of the problem. reality sometimes hurts too much to view it with kindness. this is a reason why many of us are so divided about what it means and doesnt mean to carry the label of being a black artist.

when we romanticize being black then a certain portion of our people, still bearing scars and in search of healing, will flinch, still stuck on the very real things that has happened to them as a result of racism, histories of being disenfranchised, and the ugliness that other black people have inflicted upon them. too often, those of us who are very positive in labeling ourselves as 'black artists' bash that concept over the heads of those who are still working toward labels that work for them. during a flood, you can't make me get into your raft if i've chosen to swim. i may drown; you may not want me to; but that is for me to discover. those in the raft travel in one direction, those in the water get swept away elsewhere.

what needs to happen is this: the people in the boat follow the people who are swimming - that, for me, is the only working definition of what it means to be 'black'. anything else is a person grinding an ax.

so... "relevant"?

swimming or rowing, both are relevant actions to the people involved in those circumstances.

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