Monthly Archives: August 2010

Renee Cox ‘If you don’t ask you don’t get. Then you get kicked to the curb’

New! Renee Cox profile at the Black Atlantic Resource exploring the motivations and interpretations of this artist’s work, some of which recently featured in the ‘Afro Modern: Journeys through the Black Atlantic’ exhibition at Tate Liverpool.

Renee Cox is a Jamaican-American photographer who uses self-portrait to explore race, gender and empowerment. She has transformed herself into a range of historical figures inclduing: Queen Nanny of the Maroons the ‘Hottentot Venus’ and even Jesus Christ.

Cox has also created bold characters whom she embodies in her work: her superhero persona ‘Raje’ physically confronts racial stereotypes – issuing in a ‘bold new era’, and ‘Yo Mamma’, is a ‘towering’ female figure both ‘regal and erotic’. In her work recreating famous landmark pieces of art, Flipping the Script, Cox works as an iconoclast of sorts, challenging the received truths offered by Leonardo Da Vinci and other classic artists.

These powerful personas and re-imagings have provoked strong responses, particularly her reinterpretation of the Last Supper which drew criticism from both the Catholic church and Rudy Giuliani, Mayor of New York from 1994-2001, who said Cox’s work defied ‘decency standards’. Cox’s response was  “I have a right to reinterpret the Last Supper as Leonardo da Vinci created the Last Supper with people who look like him.”

Cox said, of her own work and approah to art, ‘If you don’t ask you don’t get. Then you get kicked to the curb’. With African Americans still vastly under-represented in the history of art and recognised as under-valued in artistic collecting by both collectors and art historians does Cox have a point? More importantly, does she have an effective approach to challenging this and the stereotypes and issues surrounding race and gender today?

Read more at the Black Atlantic Resource and join the debate here …

Kara Walker “Historian of fantasy”

New! Kara Walker profile at the Black Atlantic Resource. This profile examines different aspects of the work of controversial artist Kara Walker.

Walker’s art has produced controversy since its first public display in the 1990’s ,and continues to do so today, for its graphic and shocking depictions of 19th century plantation life for the enslaved and their ‘masters’. The images often show extreme violence and explicit sexual relations, but the stereotypes Walker uses and scenes of magic realism she creates have a surreal effect. The world created is an unlinear, never ending nightmare and provokes a strong emotional reaction from the viewer.

These methods all contribute to an ongoing underlying theme of a counter-memory, or imagined history in Walker’s work. Magical or supernatural elements prevent it from being realistic and the scenes developed do not coincide with histories as told by historians. Walker has described her work as “two parts research and one part paranoid hysteria.” Is this an accurate depiction of the past? How much does accuracy matter?

Why does Walker create a history of fantasy? Does she consider the African American past to be an incomplete history? Is it dangerous to explore this through art? The history of black Atlantic  cultures is complicated and has many layers; few of which historians can know completely about. Through her art, Walker fuses fact and fiction to challenge what the viewer thinks and feels about race and slavery and the idea of ‘truth’ itself. By creating explicitly fictional work Walker has been able to simultaneously address the era of transatlantic slavery and its realities alongside the legacies of that enslavement and its impact today.

However reactions to Walker’s work show that some do consider it dangerous to create a fictional memory through art. A letter writing campaign fronted by some belonging to an older generation of African American artists was started with the aim of preventing Walker’s work from being shown and “to spread awareness about the negative images produced by the young African-American artist, Kara Walker.” However Hamza Walker has argued that such viewers’ responses should be, ,‘When art provokes anxiety ask why do you feel this way, instead of shifting the anxiety to the art.’

Is Walker an experimental artist pushing the boundaries of accepted art practice or is she naively enforcing stereotypes?  Is a created history useful in art? and is it useful in exploring the Black Atlantic?

Find out more about Kara Walker here and let us know what you think…