Art is used as a form of protest and resistance, it is a way for individuals and groups to convey experiences, feeling, demands and more. The artwork an individual may create is shaped by what they have experienced. Even in situation where a black woman and white woman share an experience their history still changes the outcome. There are also issues of artists making art based on experiences that they have not experience and do not completely understand the nuances of.
For others, art is not a direct form of resistance that deals with racism in oppression. These artists deal with their work being consider for white audiences and are pushed to the side. Artists continue to deal with a variety of criticism but for black artists they must also deal with being considered either too radical or not radical enough.
Museums are a platform where artists get to share their work. Historically museums have centred white artists. Women of colour were barred from art institutions and looked down upon by their male peers.
This is a reminder of how racism affects people in every facet of life. In 1975 at 80 years old Alma Thomas became the first black woman to have a solo show at the Whitney. Taking a look at museums it must not be forgotten that they too have been part of a system that have oppressed people of colour.
There is no lack of Black pain being displayed in art. How an artist wishes to convey their message is up to them and for many activism and art go hand in hand.
All forms of media spread a message, whether it is the intended message or one that is implied is a different issue. Looking at the Black Lives Matter movement, Black pain and art show grief, sadness, anger, and the wish for justice. A multitude of artists have created works coinciding with the movement. There is even an official Black Lives Matter blog that allows anyone to submit their own work.
Having an online space for content creators to share their work is an important foundation, it creates a place for them to interact with other creators while also encourage any form of activism they can partake in. Activism does not stop and online exist online, and the blog gives a reminder of this, they list available resources and a few different organisations. Artwork and Artists alike seem to always receive criticism, but when the subject is based around the artists own experience there is less concern than when it is an experience they have co-opted. White people should be part of the conversation of racism and police violence, but can white artists create works focusing on these issues?
In 2015 artist Ti-Rock Moore created an installation representing Mike Brown, his body lying face down not unlike the moments after he was killed. As mentioned previously art can be used as a form of activism but in the case of Moore she admitted her work was created for profit. In an interview when confronted with the accusation of profiting off of black bodies Moore states “My art is expensive to make. I am very far in the hole, and it has gotten to the point that I must start making money to be able to make more art.” To profit from art is not an inherently evil practice, being able to completely focus on art and profit from it is the dream for many. However, the meaning of activist art loses a lot of this meaning when it’s planned outcome was to make money.
Online spaces like the Black Lives Matter blog also encourage budding artists in creating their work and finding different ways to convey their thoughts. With art being used as self-expression certain aesthetics, choice of medium are chosen, and so genres are created, artists an mediums become associated with particular topics. For Black artists they may encounter the paradox of their art being too radical and not radical enough. Lorraine O’Grady considered Afro-American Abstraction to be too cautious. Artists responding to other artists work is natural and in O’Grady’s case her alter ego Mlle. Bourgeoise Noire was created. The way in which an artists may explore Black aesthetics, African diaspora seem to be given this blanket opinion, too radical or not radical enough.
For artist Howardena Pindell because her work did not include didactic images it was not considered black art and “was told to go downtown and ‘show with the white boys.” In the 1960s when Pindell was working for the MOMA her attempts to go to the Artworkers Coalition meetings were met with disdain. At the same time, she did not fit into the community at the MOMA as she was seen as being too political. Art can be considered a platform that is used to deal with uneasy subjects, but art museums have a conservative history that must not be forgotten. Art and artefacts have been taken from across the globe from cultures that were considered fascinating and less civilised. For some galleries and museums are seen as being liberal, but if you take a look at which artist have historically exhibited it paints a very different picture.
Artists have always pushed the envelope creating new forms and genres, but the mainstream art world has still been white-centric. For white artists they get to sell their work to museums and use their exhibitions to gain influence. This has been changing but it is not the large galleries but individual artists we have to thank. Artists like Pindell found they were not welcome, so they would cultivate their own spaces, putting on their own exhibitions. The art world is still heavily influenced by galleries and wealthy individuals, they choose which artwork is invaluable. Art institutions can be considered more liberal than they once were, embracing diversity, but we must not forget the people who make up these institutions, if they struggle to understand a topic, they struggle to curate a place for artists to freely display their work.
More and more galleries include exhibitions dedicated to African Diaspora and Black artists, the spread gives Black art the recognition it deserves. Museums recognition has a sense of authority behind it, they can claim who is an artist, what is art and what fits into a category. What they choose to display is limited by their own knowledge and bias. A curator’s interest and own background can affect the outcome of an exhibition. Whitechapel Gallery in 2005 curated an exhibition focusing on the Black Arts Movement from the 1960s and 1770s.
The exhibition included work using an array of mediums, such as video, sculpture, text and painting. The aim was to focus on African diaspora through the context of three countries, the United States, Britain and Jamaica. The purpose of the exhibition was to connect experiences on a transnational scale but its downfall was the large focus on the black American experience. The curators argued that Africa was the site of black America’s “forgotten cultural locus,” but by involving multiple countries in the exhibition they also place Britain and Jamaica’s culture in black America. Looking at the connections on a transnational scale is important but there is the danger of creating a false hegemonic experience, lacking how race, gender and class are affected in different locations.