Thursday, February 10, 2011

'the hero with an african face' by clyde w. ford

the advantage to working in a used-book store is that i get the chance to claim dibs on any interesting books that the community brings in to us. it's rewarding to have materials cross my path, as a writer and visual artist, that i might not otherwise have known about - works that have fueled my poetry, collages and personal philosophy. monday, i had a book enter into my awareness that intellectually validates my diaphanous points of view. that book is Clyde W. Ford's


this book is jockeying to become my new personal bible (at least in equal tandem with Brother Ishmael Reed's novel 'Mumbo Jumbo' - or possibly, Reed's book is my old testament and Ford's is my new one).

i've only read a few pages today and it has already become a valuable creative resource. in it, Ford addresses the historical and cultural value of Africa's much-ignored mythological narratives, refusing to lump the entire CONTINENT and its people under one banner, the one modern historians use when reducing hundreds of independent cultures into one manageable stereotype.

this book is a blessing; its inspiring and i am indebted to its author for fueling ghosts that haunt my creativity.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

romancing the (soap)stone)... part 3

okay, down to the bone / what i do best (but not really anuff of!)

the 1980's is often considered "the Golden Age" of black consciousness - meaning so many of our creatives had or were building artistic platforms based on the foundations of the previous generation; there was a burgeoning sense of community and cultural aesthetic. pan-africanism was being extremely promoted through every outlet of black media (print, sound, sight) and was crossing over into mainstream thought and philosophies.  educators were demanding afro-centric programs, rappers were chanting 'back to africa' as a way of improving our then-current social and political standings, african-inspired fashions were beginning to dominate our sense of style (african medallions instead of thick gold chains, kofis and crowns on our heads, abstract / geometrical designs dominated our hair styles, etc) - this "Golden Age" was the mainstreaming of the Black Arts Movement, building on the philosophies of black literature, politics and visual art. it was really a glorious feeling - there were negatives and growing pains, but such is to be expected whenever a counter-cultural phenomenon actively begins becoming more selective in what sustains it. 

the system was beginning to tilt too much to one side for the comfort for all within the collective boundaries, this is how you know there is some sense of empowerment at stake for those within or on the periphery of such an event; so critiques came forth (with good intentions and detrimental ones) and said "we were wrong for romanticizing africa." this wasnt just an over-correction, this was a capsizing.
some of our most cultural creatives were alienated, some simply backed down, others took positions within the mainstream arenas hoping to eat the beast from inside the belly to out. name-calling ensued; cultural momentums fizzled. i distinctly remember the mid-90's feeling as if we were all walking in a haze of morphine - or 'cognac' and 'sticky icky', themes that were heavily featured in our surviving art-forms (mainly rap music), not merely 'urbanized' but now art-forms that glorified the trappings of a stylized ghetto. black folks weren't going back to africa. we were going back to asphalt, back to "the hood".

and now, a decade and a half later, when talking to the youth on the streets all you sense is detachment.
a whole generation was lost to "the white-t-shirt movement" - traditional black media failed staying relevant in a digital era while masters of the digital era heavily regulated cultural stereotypes in order to generate digital income. on television, radio and the internet our aesthetics are more rooted in "gangsta-gangsta" more-so than "i have a dream", "by any means necessary", and "the revolution will not be televised" combined! 

now, the above page is taken from the 1973 edition of kenneth clark's "civilisation" - and i seriously doubt that most historians or art historians would openly agree with such assessments, but i also doubt that many of those same historians would privately feel any different than what was stated. greek and roman cultures are heavily lionized on every level of world education and entertainment, from disney to the louvre. the institutionalizing of the hellenistic aesthetic is what empowers all the branches of western society; there are other aesthetic branches of culture, but none as ideologically entrenched in everyday thought as what the west has enshrined around the globe.

dont get me wrong - this isnt a full-out rejection of all things western, or white... Crystal swears up and down that there is more than one victorian woman in my african ancestry - and i cant deny it, i enjoy a lot of that time frame, artistically / not socially. 

all i'm saying is (insert artist statement here) :

that a people without control of the mythologies (oral or visual) that preceded them is not 
respected as a world people and thus lacks the cultural influences beyond what is allowed them.

we must once again romanticize everything about us / granting new power to our old slogans:
black IS beautiful... and more importantly than that, black is canonical.

Monday, February 07, 2011

romancing the (soap)stone... part 2

i've been waiting for the right moment to finish the (incomplete) thought began in part 1 of this posting; i had danced around what i was wanting to get at and before i knew it i had run out of time... it'll probably happen again and then this once-intended stand-alone blog entry will become a series with a life of its own and me playing dr. frankenstein attempting to keep it from discovering too much about itself.

at my core, i'm a villainous man. we just started watching the tv show 'heroes' (almost good, but mostly so boring) on netflix - i find myself always rooting for Sylar. the last couple of episodes (the middle of season 3) are dealing with the theme of "catalyst"... transformative events that get labeled as having "game-changing" effects. you often hear that word "game-changer" on talk shows featuring one-party-punditry where policies and political candidates are being championed... but just a few days ago i overheard Crystal use that word during a phone conversation she was having. later that day Bill Maher said to someone on his panel "if i hear that word [game-changer] one more time i'm gonna pfnkasdfipaeaefabne...." or something like that, i wasnt fully paying attention.

but "catalyst"... yes.

transformation tends to be at the heart of my creativity, as it is with most creative-types, so i'm particularly drawn to those phrasings when other folks are discussing them, whether political, social, artistic, literary or whatever the subject may be... i'm drawn in.

the catalyst for me to finish this attempted blog-thought came at me, again, by way of conversations Crystal was having with a friend. it concerned the poem "The Change" by Tony Hoagland in which he describes the uneasy demise of (some!) white privilege / perspective / authoritative might. Images of an increasingly empowered Blackness threaten the status quo and his poem reflects the shifting social response of many whites. It's a pretty good poem. it does depict a strong prejudice against Blackness in general and the black female athlete in particular, but its all within context - white fear, angst and ignorance are exposed at the expense of black stereotyping - neither aspect is particularly flattering, to whites or to blacks, but the resulting message is this: white folks had better get used to this assault to their personal mythologies; these black folks aint bullshittin'...

the lead black character in the poem, Vondella Aphrodite, represents exactly what i mean when i talk about my 'abstrack africana' aesthetic - how we must mythologize our own black images, praise them and hold them on high / above all 'normal' things - making our stories of us canonical, something to be romanticized about and shot at by those hating to see us, as a whole, rise up above the limitations society pre-determines us to have.

(will be back shortly with part 3 - fatboy hasta go punch the clock!)