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Racist imagery in tchotchke form (photo by Eddy Milfort/Flickr)

Recently I was invited to take part in an event and conversation on the work of the conceptual poet Vanessa Place organized by the National Coalition Against Censorship. I sought information on her from a friend who is also a poet, Farid Matuk, whose contribution is printed below, and ended up agreeing with him that her work in general and particularly the tweets appropriating Gone with the Wind failed to meaningfully challenge white supremacy, while it nevertheless gestured toward doing so in attempting to interpose itself in an ongoing wider debate around systemic racism.

Our discussion led to deeper consideration of what might be done to challenge what is widely recognized as an institutionally facilitated, historically formed, systemic power relationship that defends and maintains the wealth and privilege of people of the European continent (understood to be white) while exploiting, demeaning or ignoring people of color. As I am using it here, the term “white supremacy” indicates systematized efforts to preserve the dominant group position of those identified as white over those designated as non-white, through philosophical, economic, scientific, religious and political structures.

In order to more thoroughly confront this circumstance, Hyperallergic invited me to seek out the opinions of colleagues and professionals in the field whose intelligence and insight are formidable, to forthrightly answer the query: “What would you do to disrupt white supremacy in the current system of art production?” They all developed expressive, eloquent and unrestrained responses to this question that have been edited only for length. It may be pertinent to state that they are hail from different subject positions vis-à-vis sexuality, race, national origin, and gender.

Farid Matuk

Farid Matuk is the author of This Isa Nice Neighborhood (Letter Machine) and My Daughter La Chola (Ahsahta).

(photo courtesy the author)

In their introduction to The Racial Imaginary Claudia Rankine and Beth Loffreda note that white folks called out for making racist work worry over their right to imagine people of color or to ignore people of color. Wisely, Rankine and Loffreda urge we shift the conversation away from rights over to desire, inviting everyone to explore why our work seeks or veers from this or that (imagined) body.

But maybe that’s what you say when you’re facing white people. Maybe that’s what you say when you’re facing white students like the ones I teach. Maybe that’s what you say when you love the people you’re facing. What if white folks don’t have the right? What if they just stay with the difficulty of that proposition? What if their task is to earn it, re-order their valuation of the world for it, which is to say re-order the world?

There’s a strain of conceptual poetics that hinges on the proposition that media, social or otherwise, seeks to reproduce itself without concern for the content it spits. Standing in that structural void, certain white conceptual poets prove their point by beating the black body at the walls of the gallery or lecture hall saying, See, no content resists the black body’s flight through this empty air, and btw, what do you call a Muslim who owns a camel and a goat? Such work, we are told, renders white supremacy — and the ugly embrace of neoliberalism and multiculturalism in which it hides — visible. There are worlds beyond that embrace, but if such radicals can’t see them, they might work, instead, to render whiteness itself not visible but evitable.

Dr. Herukhuti

Dr. Herukhuti, is a playwright, essayist, poet, and Chief Erotics Officer of Center for Culture, Sexuality and Spirituality. His new play “My Brother’s a Keeper” will begin a national tour in 2016

(photo by Efrain Gonzalez, and courtesy the author)

I would make art that doesn’t rely upon imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism or heteropatriarchy to exist, be received and have impact. I would make art that doesn’t have them as an intended audience or reviewer. I would make art that articulates the realities of living in an unjust society as well as envisions liberatory futures. I would do so in ways that are rooted in maroon tradition, pan-African revolutionary praxis, radical queer politics, Funk aesthetics, and the complexities of Black beauty. I would make art that creates alternative systems of art production that draw upon the resources, magic, and mother’s milk of indigenous communities. I would seek out, identify, and embrace the people, groups, and spirits past, present, and future capable of nurturing such an approach to disruptive, oppositional, and liberatory world shaking and making.

And I know I would do these things because they are what I am doing. But I’m doing so for reasons other than to disrupt white supremacy in the current system of art production. I do these things because I want to be free. I do these things because I am committed to supporting the ongoing effort for the creation of a more socially just and ecologically well world. I do these things because I desire, deep in the marrow of my bones, what if feels like to love, live, and make art in a world without these soul-crunchers.

Dr. Nizan Shaked

Dr. Nizan Shaked is an Associate Professor of Contemporary Art History, Museum and Curatorial Studies at California State University Long Beach and author of the forthcoming The Synthetic Proposition: Conceptualism and the Political Referent in Contemporary Art.

(photo by Nicholas Gaby)

The Black Panther Party leader Huey P. Newton theorized racism as a tool to instill and sustain class oppression and exploitation, a mechanism to ensure the existence of available cheap labor. It follows that in order to eliminate racism everywhere, and that includes the realm of art and aesthetics, we should battle capitalism. However, and this is the however that matters, the argument that political intervention should start with the broadest social underpinning, i.e. class, will eventually resolve all secondary issues (race, gender sexuality, etc.), has done the Left a great disservice. Instead of embracing the abolitionist tendencies of the 1960s social movements, the Left in general, and the art-world Left in particular, busied itself with criticizing identity politics.

Meanwhile, in the court of wealth (in the 1980s), a new set of financial tools allowed the market to grow into the monster it is today, influencing new generations of museum patronage that is imposing its taste on us all. What can we do? Set aside the semantics and correctly identify the battle. Demand that all institutions receiving public funds make their decision-making processes transparent. Museums should be consulting artist boards that reflect the demographics of the social fabric. Members should be individuals respected in the field, not just famous artists. Programming should reflect a wide array of tastes, approaches, and methodologies, and be publically debated in town-hall meetings. Finally, accessions should be made by tiered systems of peer-review and expert opinion, not by the whims of a financial ruling class.

Travis Webb

Travis Webb is a PhD candidate in Religion at Claremont Graduate University in California, and editor of The Abeng, the scholarly journal for the Institute of Signifying Scriptures.

(photo courtesy the author)

“White supremacy” in the art world suggests the supremacy of white people. And it seems to me you are asking, how we disrupt the hegemony of these white people. If that’s what you’re asking, then fund the work of non-white artists and suppress their white counterparts, censor white productions, belittle the achievements of white people while celebrating non-white people. We know these tactics work because historically white people have used them very effectively to steal rock n’ roll, dehumanize native “crafts,” and elevate European “art” music above other “colored” musics. The tactics of the bully are well established.

No, ultimately whiteness is not coterminous with the hegemony of white people. I’m not suggesting the supremacy of white people isn’t a historical reality. I’m saying that whiteness — shorthand for an otherworldly contempt for the body — is a habit, a mode, a glamour to conceal these messy, universally non-white bodies. None of us are white. Not one. Whiteness is our mythology, our fixation, the totem around which our politics of identity spin. That totem as police murders black people. That totem as neighborhood watchman stalks skittles-wielding teenagers and scrubs them from the world. If you want to disrupt whiteness in the world of art, I’d open up all the bathroom stalls at the Met, and the Guggenheim, and every other mausoleum built to house man’s magnificence and make everyone piss and shit in the open, in full view of one another. Whiteness would leave that place and never come back.

Oasa DuVerney

Oasa DuVerney is an artist, mother, and native New Yorker. 

(photo courtesy the author)

1.

First of all, fuck the art world. It is the most boring self-congratulatory capitalist farce/lifestyle brand there is on the market.

2.

Start telling the truth. White supremacy in art hides behind a protective blanket of self serving theories that work to silence truthsayers, and dismisses anything that calls them out directly as didactic, offensive, “not really art,” and problematic, or just community art.

We often believe that to collapse this establishment we have to work within the parameters they give us so as not to be dismissed. Dismiss these parameters.

There is no point in supporting a system intent on crushing you. Don’t give white supremacy and patriarchy the luxury of believing that there is nothing wrong with it. Everything that is wrong started with it.

3.

Rather than making work about redefining your identity within the confines of the racist tropes you’ve been handed and required to perform; why not redefine whiteness? In particular male whiteness. James Baldwin said: “I have been described by you for hundreds of years. And now, I can describe you. That’s part of the panic.”

Create panic.

By making them think you don’t give a fuck by not giving a fuck. And of course

keep your day job and your head up.

4.

Be a gangsta. Not the kind that abuses the system to give corporate welfare to their billionaire friends. When the time comes help organize your block to rent strike for affordable housing and be an artist that dismantles capitalism.

Gangsta.

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Seph Rodney

Seph Rodney, PhD, is the opinions editor and managing editor of the Sunday Edition for Hyperallergic and has written for the New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, and other publications. He is featured on...

64 replies on “Five Ways to Disrupt White Supremacy in the Mainstream Art World”

        1. Would argue I didn’t–a string of question-marks is for sure a somewhat oblique way of writing: is this point for real–wow, how ridiculous.

  1. in the city of brotherly love, where we have a gallery named in honor of napoleon, a racist dictator who fought a war to enslave haitians,( a gallery/artist collective of 10 white people,) which recently collaborated with vox populi, a gallery/collective of 23 artists, 22 white, zero black (which in 27 years has included one black woman who left after one year) (& as far as i know there are currently 0 black artists in any of our artist collectives) to mention any of the above is bringing up race, when we are all colorblind people here & is, i am told, “crossing the line” & therefore not discussable. end of story.

      1. aside from their racism, we don’t get the best visual art here from visual artists who are colorblind….

  2. I would suggest that artists of color keep working, be smart, thoughtful people, and be true to themselves. Speaking only for myself, I try to process negativity constructively through art. I try my hardest to work through disappointment and slights, and strive for excellence. Oftentimes there are more disappointments and more slights, but sometimes nice things happen, like this:

    http://www.moadsf.org/exhibition/four-themes/

    T

  3. Tired of being judged by my color. By bringing it up all the time you are sinking into racist behavior behavior. Stop pretending you are different.

    1. The language of “whiteness” critique and “white supremacy is made to frustrate you. It’s provocative and angering without having substance enough to engage with as a matter of worthwhile disagreement. Read the article called something like “White Fragility” and you’ll see what I mean. It’s shallow and incoherent.

      Authors like this one don’t understand that the art world (market driven in all its aspects and institutions) is international and ***American racism*** is actually an issue of “local politics” that doesn’t have global import. It will always be marginal in the art world because it is marginal by virtue of its own contents. African-American victimhood is of no interest to billionares in China. (In America, look what Hyperallergic did to Cosby’s huge collection of black art. It and the museum that hosted it was sexist, this-ist and that-ist.) But black politics is the bread and butter of this particular author so expect nothing else. Don’t expect self-reflexivity there either. The agenda and terms are set.

        1. That would be true of anyone, including you? Feel free to read what I wrote above and offer a response to it in a substantive way.

      1. Dear Harper,

        Putting aside for the moment your contention that American racism doesn’t have global import–because this is a fundamental misreading of the premise to this article, the dangling thread, that if one were to pull on it, would unravel your argument–let me just address this idea that black politics is my bread and butter.

        Please, if you are going to engage with my writing, make assertions that are at least based on evidence, that is, argue with some intellectual integrity. Look at all my posts to Hyperallergic (it’s easy: click on the active link in my name). Look at how many articles I’ve written on other issues. Mind you, I don’t mind being associated with what you are calling “black politics,” what I would term the politics of race, ethnicity and class. I think these are key issues that profoundly inflect our social and business relations. However, you are making an assertion that is simply not based on evidence. I daresay that given what I have read of your comments, this is what you tend to do.

        1. “Putting aside for the moment your contention that American racism doesn’t have global import–because this is a fundamental misreading of the premise to this article”

          Your premise to the article, at the very least, involves the existence of a main stream art world “white supremacy” (and how to combat it). I am not misreading that. I am framing that particular narrative within a larger scope of global interest of the “mainstream art world.” Of course, I don’t think a white supremacy of the kind you think exists does exist, but that’s neither here nor there. (Only one of your invited respondents, Dr. Shaked, has any demonstrable expertise in the art world anyway. Her remarks on racism are incisive, but her populist ideals for a solution to racism are too naive.) The point is, all this discourse takes place within local politics that doesn’t understand it as such, but believes it to be crucial for institutions where it isn’t.

          “Look at how many articles I’ve written on other issues.”

          Is this a trick question? Colonialism and power in the Met’s Kongo show, Harlem this, Bronx that (btw, 10 Lucian Smith works were stolen from that show), diversity for museum boards, Cindy Sherman in blackface, a black artist who found affordable studio space, Harlem again, black artist Elias Sime? Yeah, I skipped the one article of a white girl. Was she suppose to be evidence you aren’t obviously biased toward black politics as a writer? Of course not. It’s fine to be political, but it’s predictable too. And tiresome. Hence the OP’s comment.

          I personally have no problem with your activism, but it’s worthwhile to put it in context for those tired of feeling abused and bullied by rhetoric such as yours. And, if you’re really going to do appeal to authority arguments, get valid authorities in the art world.

          1. Dear Harper,

            I imagine that you are not going to be convinced that integrity is critical to worthwhile intellectual engagement, but I am convinced of this. I’ve 28 articles on Hyperallergic, and you are insisting that most of them have to do with race, ethnicity and class. It’s as if you stopped at the first page of my listed posts rather than seeing *all* of what I have written.

            Yours is the kind of retort a child makes in the face of evidence to the contrary of your assumption: you pretend it doesn’t exist. More, I have to say that I find it troubling that you talk about the Bronx, and an article about an artist (who happens to be black) who found affordable studio space as evidence of a supposed political bias. You don’t seem equipped to understand that in writing about the search for affordable studio space in NYC, I might validly use an artist who is not white. That’s deplorable. As demonstrated in previous conversations your arguments are often prima facie incorrect and just plain asinine.

            You didn’t take notice of the fact that my *other* article on development in the South Bronx was about contrasting two very different approaches: one by private developers and the other by organizations such as Spaceworks that try to check gentrification, at least for artists. Race did come up in an oblique way because the inept PR campaign pushed by Rubenstein asked people to hashtag bronxisburning and did other foolish things in trying to sell the idea of his big development. I don’t think I discussed race and class, but perhaps I should have done so. This, by the way is a circumstance that speaks to my argument that race and class are never far from any of our meaningful social and economic relations.

            Your ability to make ridiculous assumptions is breathtaking.

            More, you don’t care that I am supposedly biased; you care that you cannot control my writing. You want to have me make the arguments you want to make. You should recall you began corresponding with me after I made an argument you happened to agree with in response to the Boston MFA Kimono event. Then you began to register disapproval of my subsequent critiques because they diverged from your perspectives.

            It’s so the typical bullying strategy that Travis refers to in the above: you can’t control my analysis, and it takes as valid people or places you discount as ethnic or black (and therefore count as evidence of bias, while I suppose coverage of Soho and the East Village would be fine), so you try to invalidate my argument.

            I could tell you why I cover the Bronx and Harlem for Hyperallergic, but honestly your accusations are not worth refuting, because you don’t engage honestly. You are not prepared to have this conversation.

            Therefore, not only am I going to end this discussion with you here, I am also *not* going to engage with you again in the comments section.

          2. Not much to respond to here. (1) Yes, I did use your last page of articles to talk about your politics. It’s for sensible economy, and there’s nothing dishonest about that. Get real. (2) The “black artist” who found affordable studio space did what scores of artists do. The subject is hardly worth a story. If it’s not happenstance that the artist is it black, the happenstance is he was the first person to teach you about how artists do shit in New York and happens to be black. My finding either peculiar is anything but “deplorable.” Again, get real. (3) I’m not trying to “control” what you write about nor employing some “white suprematist” bullshit your experts are teaching you how to combat in the art world. Just because someone finds your article full of problems and agrees with others who do too does not make me your “political” enemy or a person who wants to protect whomever or whatever you’re always taking aim at. When an author publishes something absurdly polemical and racially attacking, yet full of nonsense, it’s worth addressing and you are not the only person the comment section is for. (4) I did not request that you engage me so if you never do again I will not see anything odd about that or feel at a loss. Let’s call it a win win.

            Harper

          3. Harper, you are absolutely right that not every person who cries “race” is under immediate threat of racist circumscriptions. However, I don’t at all feel that this article “baits” the topic (though I am, of course, clearly biased). “Race” (a bullshit socially constructed, fully discredited schemata) is nonetheless a real, concrete, get shot in the back, don’t bring this up on Good Morning America, problem. Yes, there are “non-white artists” who are widely celebrated. W.E.B Du Bois also earned his PhD from Harvard in 1895. I’m not really sure what that says about 19th century racism in America except that someone’s gotta win the lottery otherwise no one plays. And, yes, you’re right that America is particularly sick with racism, but have you looked at the members of the Reichstag, the Parlement français, House of Commons or Lords, etc? They’re pretty damned white, as in filled with “white people.” As I said in my (very short) piece, however, “whiteness” isn’t the same things as “white people.” Even though, historically, “white people” will shoot you to protect their “whiteness.” Still, sometimes it gets away from them. Ben Carson’s “whiteness,” for example, is blinding.

          4. I also don’t feel that this article “baits” the topic of race. The reality of “white suprematism” and “whitness” is everywhere in the art world, under ever rock, in every museum boardroom, at least in the imagination of the author. The existence of the white power bogeymon is a forgone conclusion, the premise on which this “how-to battle guide” was compiled. My interest in commenting when I did was just to explain to the frustrated commenter how the “white suprematist” rhetoric operates as a polemical strategy and why it makes her feel judged and weary.

      2. “It will always be marginal in the art world because it is marginal by virtue of its own contents. African-American victimhood is of no interest to billionares in China.”

        Harpo ….What you dont seem to understand is that its not just white *****AmeriKKKan Racism**** we have to deal with but the larger evil of **** Eurocentric Racism**** , the Godfather of ****AmeriKKKKan Racism*** and if a Chinese billionair does not give a dam about black people Art is because *** Eurocentric Racism*** has infected the whole world and the Asians themselves have bought into it. Keep in mind these Asians have been told/brainwashed for the past 600 years that Europeans are at the top, Asians are second and Blacks are at the bottom and that is the natural order of things. Racist American and European culture has been exported to ALL corners of the world and former colonies of the Europeans. I happen to believe that white people are NOT even fully human as recent genomic sequencing confirms you have to up 10% Neanderthal DNA ,so black people have to understand that when we deal with Caucazoids we are not dealing with fully formed human beings, but people who are part beast, which explains there hatred for black people who are 100% Homo- Sapiens, in a way we have to forgive the likes of you because you are hardwired to be what you are .. a partial beast who is incapable of empathy and understanding.

        From what I have written above you might think I hate white people and we have good reason to despise your Neanderthal /beastly characteristics and tendencies, but I dont..I FEEL sorry for white people as you are like a mentally ill person who doesn’t know that he is mentally ill. To dismiss black people’s cries for justice and fairness and an even playing field ( which I am certain if implemented we will dominate you because we are naturally superior Homo Sapiens and you are partially subhuman Neanderthal – Homo Sapien) is what a Neanderthal is hardwired to do. You are what you are. You dont realize that every thing the white man has he stolen from another race or used the blood and sweat of another race to attain. Been a parasite and vampire is a full time job for the white man- Neanderthal and oppressing others and been in denial is the way he copes with his own shortcomings. A white man will break his opponents legs before the race- then go around bragging with a straight face about how he won the race because he is naturally superior to the black guys legs he just broke. Thats the white man-Neanderthal fo ya!..If he wasn’t a well armed terrorist-killer with guns the black man would be falling on the floor laughing at the white man- Neanderthal. By the way the same Chinese billionaire is also deep into Africa working hand in hand with the Black man, 100 years from now when Africa has 3 billion people and 1 billion strong middle class consumers – European Art may not be worth $hit….As a black man I know for sure, if I was an African billionaire100 years from now and they will be many … I would not pay a 100 dollars for a Picassso( who ripped of African Art and Aesthetics) or for any so-called European masters as it does nothing for me. There is NO connection for me, let white people buy that $hit. I would want African Art and beautiful Zimbabwe Stone Sculptures in my house. History is not over and white AmeriKKKa and Europeans wont be lording it over black people for ever, your white grand children might be going to Africa looking for a job one day. Cheerio!!

        1. Bro. I think you started out well there, but your numbers on “Caucazoids” and the percentage of Neanderthal genes is straight up wrong.

      3. “***American racism*** is actually an issue of “local politics” that doesn’t have global import.” Laughably inaccurate. To suggest that anything American doesn’t have a ripple effect outward is to ignore our cultural exports (consider hip-hop, for one example of an art form born out of a history of racism now consumed internationally) and to ignore the actual history of racism. Where do you think the idea of racism got started? What makes you think the Transatlantic Slave Trade happened exclusively in the US? Have you been paying attention at all?

    2. Dear Barb,

      Your comment begs a host of questions: I’m not sure what you mean in writing “bringing it up all the time”. Do you mean me, specifically, or Hyperallergic, or some other “you”? What is the “it” being brought up? And how is what is written in this article indicative of me pretending to be different? Different from whom?

    3. Wazzup Barbie??…YOU are TIRED of been judged by YOUR color?…let me tell you some thing Ms. Snow White…you should walk in black peoples shoes for a minute then you will have SOME clue what it is to be judged and even murdered because of your colour. Some times I wonder what planet you and the rest of White AmeriKKKa is living on.

  4. This is a competitive argument which has no place in art since any form of art can be seen as all things to all people. Good or bad. Better for black artists to make their point through their art rather than via judgmental and highly subjective comments.

    1. Dear johnb,

      Please tell me what you mean by competitive? I don’t understand who would be competing with whom. Also, there is not one argument here. There are several arguments. And I don’t know that any black artists who simplistically have a point to make with their art. Like other artists, black artists have feelings, intuitions, ideas, questions and desires to explore and test. I don’t know how one gets to the place where one thinks that black artists as a group have a point to make.

      1. The article was about objections to the alleged supremacy of “white”art which were couched in competitive terms. I don’t see art as belonging to any one group of artists or consumers. Art is totally subjective as are people’s views on it. Like faith its worth can never be proved absolutely.

        Even though Guernica may have made one of the greatest political statements in the world through art, and may have been thought by Picasso and others to be objective in its exposure and
        condemnation of the horrors of war, nevertheless it can only be interpreted by an individual as to its meaning in their own mind, and the same applies to all art. Some may view it as pure art without meaning other than for its artisan skill, and others not. Those who try to differentiate art or class it in terms of value or meaning are pretentious in my view, as are many artists of today, white or black. But that is my view among millions who may agree or not.
        Art can be pure beauty, obscenity,real or abstract, primal or modern, extraordinarily skilled, or whatever. That there are so many aspects to it and views shows it belongs to one individual artist or viewer. There is much black art can be proud of, from the pyramids to modern music and dance. Don’t complain. Just do it.

        1. Dear Johnb,

          I don’t understand what you are saying. I don’t think any of the writers refer to “white” art. I still don’t understand what you mean by couched in competitive terms. Who is competing with whom?

          I think what these writers are getting at is that systems underlay the production of art that privilege certain world views. Are you able to see that or grasp that idea?

          1. All commerce is competitive. And for art to be sold it becomes commerce. Rascism is often used as a complaint of unfairness in the jobs market, but surely the art world, of all, should be the one where this argument has no grounds.

            There has been nothing to stop a black Warhol or Lichenstein or Rothko appearing on the scene. Or for that matter a Hockney or Ruscha or Jackson Pollock or Sam Francis. I don’t believe for a moment their skin color or education had anything to do with their sales.
            In the UK Lowry is highly valued in the high £millions for what is in effect primitive UK art based on localized industrial scenes. In essence it is little different from ethnic Caribbean art.
            Much black art is highly valued in Europe, especially African art, old and new. The art world operates to make money and to find new talent, no matter who the artist may be. The demand for Chinese art has soared in recent years because of the huge increase in the wealth of many Chinese, so to that extent it may be that different races appreciate different art forms.
            The only disadvantage I see for black people may be in their art education and opportunity to paint, but good art is a natural talent and soon gets recognized, as has happened in the music world for both blacks and whites from all backgrounds

  5. You could have all the artists say they identify as black/African American and that would solve the problem of white supremacism. /sarcasm

    Most of the time I have no idea what the race is of the artist and don’t care. I could list a dozen or more first rate super star artists who are not white who are recognized and celebrated by the “Art World” and even more first rate artists who are white and not in the least recognized or celebrated by the “Art World.”

    What I have read here disgusts me most of all because of the stupidity and rank racism, in this case against whites and European culture. The contempt is absurd when considering the historical reality that art history and fine art as a discipline was created by European culture for Europeans. Might as well condemn Asian Art as well for “Asian Supremacy” or traditional African Art as “African Supremacy” — just as stupid.

    If you are not interested in Western culture or European history then don’t spend your time looking at it. Look elsewhere but don’t condemn Europe for developing a culture or the US for carrying that forward. If you have a problem with whites then go to a location where non-whites are the majority. Report back about the great art there.

      1. For an artist that criticism is misplaced and unproductive. European culture created the possibility for total creative freedom, something which traditional tribal cultures does not. The challenge for the artist is to use that freedom productively, not to self destruct.

        1. RCCA, your assertion that “European culture created the possibility for total creative freedom,” is profoundly uniformed. First of all, the notion that a biologically constrained pro-social primate could have “total creative freedom” is adolescent (usually masculine) fantasy. Second of all, the idea that “European culture” can be coherently extended beyond the historical horizons of Byzantium is dubious at best–and I would argue should not go much beyond 1054 (the generally accepted year of the Catholic schism). I assume that’s what your implying in your assertion, at least: the great zephyr of democracy which blows westward from the aegean and animates the great liberation of man. Yes? I can’t imagine you mean that “total creative freedom” began with the catholic church’s fracture. So I assume you mean the former (i.e. what every Euro-American learns in middle school). Well, unfortunately, it’s just not true. It’s an invention of… wait for it… you’re not going to believe this but… Europeans–Dante, and Petrarch, and Erasmus, and all the rest. It goes without saying that Europeans are no worse than any other people when it come to politicing for their own greatness, but we don’t have to fall for it.

          I do, however, sincerely hope for your productive use of the freedom that material progress allows. I hope that for everyone.

          1. Very interesting, but I was thinking in terms of art history and more recent developments in the 19th century which allowed artists greater latitude to explore psychological themes and materials suitable for fine arts resulting in expanded freedom in expressive content. This developed in various countries we now refer to as European, i.e., Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Spain, etc.

            I’m not even sure what a “biologically constrained pro-social primate” actually means. Are you even talking about the human species? I’m also not sure what you are talking about when you claim that European culture doesn’t extend beyond 1054. The artistic developments I’m referring to continued well beyond the Middle Ages into the Renaissance and so forth. We are talking about the Art World, aren’t we? At least I am.

            You seem to be uninformed in that area.

          2. RCCA … It was the Black Egyptians who civilized the Greeks and taught them about architecture and the arts. Do you know that all your Greek philosophers and socalled Intellectuals were educated in Black Egyptian Universities or schools of learning? Have you see the beautiful works of art of black people cointained in the tombs of King Tut and the all the other Pharaohs? The Greeks was homosexual savages when lucked out won a battle against the Egyptians and occupied Egypt. From science to mathematics medicines to the arts started with the Black Africans. Fast forward to to Moors/Blackamoor 400 years conquest of half of Western Europe dragging Neanderthal Europeans out the White Ages…. I mean Dark Ages ushering in the Renaissance which is ongoing to this day . You were basically white savage when the Moors introduce Arts, Literature, Science , Algebra/Mathematics to you Neanderthal Europe. Shakespeare and Beethoven were Moors. I have art images fro the 15th Century of white servants/serfs serving drinks to the Black Moorish Masters.
            What Europeans has done is stolen other people history and culture and arts and called it his own. He is very good at stealing other peoples arts and culture, see RockN Roll and Jazz and Picasson ripping of African Art.

            You need to educate your self old chap before you start spewing euro-centric nonsense.

          3. LOL thanks for the laugh! You’re sick, in a bad way. Nothing you mentioned has any relevance to the topic here or even mentioned the mainstream art world. BTW, you really are delusional — for example, there’s no proof that ancient Egyptians were Black Africans. In fact the ancient Egyptians wrote about Black Africans and used them as slaves. The Muslims of North Africa expanded the slave trade. The word “black” in Arabic is abeed, the equivalent of the n word. See: http://www.freep.com/article/20140226/NEWS05/302260026/Social-media-campaign-aims-ending-Arabic-slur-against-blacks
            A new Muslim group co-founded by metro Detroiters is launching a social media campaign urging Arabs not to use Arabic racial slurs against African Americans.

          4. Sorry, posted the last reply in the wrong place. Here it is again.

            RCCA, thank you for illustrating the salience of Seph’s question, and the inadequacy of our collective answers. Your anxieties are Freudian in proportions. Don’t worry, not everyone wants to steal your toys. Shakespeare, Calculus, modern cartography, Astronomy, you get to keep all of those, and others too. They are undeniably European (i.e. “western” inventions). European history claiming the Ancient Greeks is a tall tale that is only sustained in the repetition of the telling, but let’s skip over that because it’s not really all that important. What’s important to remember is that the only reason the Europeans had all this time to sit around and figure out retrograde orbits, and the slopes and areas of curved space, is because they had other non-European bodies washing their laundry, and planting their tobacco, and processing their sugar. The “free” spaces which promoted financial markets, and newspapers, and the discovery of the Calculus, for example, took place in 17th and 18th century coffee houses (of course this is a simplification). I wonder, how were they able to purchase coffee so cheaply? Have so much time to sit and conjure the modern world? The answer is obvious, and the questions are rhetorical. The european nations, and their greatest magic trick, the United States, owe the colonized world a tremendous, impossibly large debt. No, we were not the world’s first empire, and won’t certainly be its last, but we are the only one we can do anything about. You are right that Muslim empires were deeply complicit in the slave trade (the Yemenis were particularly bad). And? Are we now, like caught-red-handed 5 year olds, saying that we’re not guilty because Al-Abshibi stole a candy bar too? Yep, Muslim empires were also terrible, so now can we move on and talk about ourselves?

            Lastly, and I apologize for the length, because I’m sure you have better things to do, I don’t believe it makes any sense, on an intellectual level, to talk about “the art world.” It definitely makes sense from a practical, which artist is doing what and who is he or she in conversation with, kind of way. Where do I go for shows, etc? But, in these kind of discussions, art can’t be separated from politics and power (visit the British museum), and contemporary art can’t either, because who after all has the time to engage with these daliences? The vocabulary to talk about who’s “serious,” the time and the space to collect the materials to “render” rather than “tag?” I did not mention specific artists because that’s not what this was about. One who comes to mind, who’s installation work in particular challenges “whiteness”as I’ve named it, is Christopher Cozier.

            RCCA, I’m happy to let you have the last word, if you’re interested.

          5. The point is that art is an activity involving manipulation of materials for aesthetic and psychic/psychological purposes and has existed for as long as mankind has existed. As long as mankind has existed powerful people have been using art. Africans used art for its magical powers. The big business mainstream “art world” as we know it today has developed out of the “European” experience, along with occasional appropriations from Asia and Africa.

            The development of painting, sculpture, film to their present level of refinement is due to the efforts of innumerable artists acting not as part of a political program for “whiteness” but as an expression of their personal humanity, learning about the physical world and life’s transcendent dimension. The art world tended to reflect the bias of general society in giving support to males and not recognizing talented women, etc. But none of that actually determines the quality of the work. Was Van Gogh really less of an artist because he was white or because he did not sell his paintings? In your view, if I understand your comment, he is invalid because of slavery. If it weren’t for slavery Van Gogh would never have become an artist and therefore we should burn his paintings or turn them to the wall, right? I only mention him because I assume despite your lack of involvement with painting today you probably have seen some reproductions of his work or seen a movie. Have you actually stood in front of an actual painting? Doubtful.

            I came to the conclusion from the way you talk about art that you have had little or no experience of direct encounter with high level art or any experience of transcendence. Art for you is completely devoid of any actual value besides monetary or political. Your experience is determined by your academic training, which these days consists of endless browbeating and brainwashing about the evils of colonialism.

            The artist you mentioned, Christopher Cozier, is a perfect example of someone who operates completely within an academic/political system, supported by self serving power elite, something you supposedly despise. Talk about being f’d up! His idea of being an artist is like being an adult person permanently stuck in adolescence complaining about his/their parents. He doesn’t ever have to venture into the world of ordinary people where he might fail to make a living. Christopher Cozier is a illustrator of intellectual trends, he doesn’t have to sell anything except his resume. His work is about the political program of academics not art.

            I don’t fully understand the compulsive need to self flagellate over the unfairness of mankind and in particular “whiteness” and the European/American experience. Do you happen to know that there are more slaves in the world today than there were in the US? We know that slavery has been outlawed but is still rampant in the Arab world. But you know, Musims/brown people, etc. are victims, so we don’t even mention that. You might look at this: http://www.freetheslaves.net/about-slavery/slavery-today/ and reconsider your tunnel vision on White Supremacy and our colonial past. Best regards.

  6. interesting article on a sensitive issue…. I do believe any major disruption should first start from those who feel or see themselves as misrepresented or discluded from the mainstream art world. There is no use continuing to beg for inclusion, because any useful power cannot be truly given, but must be assumed, for it to have relevance over a long period of time.

    I do wonder though, just how many here, including the author, has in their private art collections works produced by black artists, or artists of colour – whether those talents are emerging or professional?

    People of colour in the creative world need to step up to the plate and assist in collecting works by artists from their communities. And, by so doing over time, pushes up the value of such works, ultimately attracting other cultures to participate in the process, thereby creating a level playing field. It’s really the value of the seller that motivates the value of the buyer.

    Interestingly, the one major black art movement in America happened some 80 years ago during the Harlem Renaissance, and since then nothing has come close to rivaling that productive, creative period, whether on the North American or on the South American continent. In America today, the only group of people who have made a concerted effort to preserve, collect and disseminate creative works has largely been the Jewish people. Their efforts spans not only the fine arts, but the performing arts, and much more. Everyone else only sees such culture expressions as passing parades, easily discarded after the fervor of events are over. And, when the dust clears, cry’s about lack of inclusion.

    For those who are truly fed-up with the current state of affairs with regards to people of colour in the art world, need to get out there pronto, and disrupt the embedded process by buying and promoting art made by your people. And, with people now growth-hacking everything, the art world is also fair game.

    1. People don’t like that perfectly accurate answer because it involves work. History and hard work are not embraced in our culture, which is also why nothing gets done. People exhaust themselves with hashtag “activism” and then go back to playing on their phones. Thanks for giving the right answer. It did not go unnoticed.

      1. thanks for seeing the bigger picture Harper. Our people, black people, people of colour, soul people, need to do for self first, support our own gifted talents, and stop looking for other cultures to validate our greatness in the global societies which we live.

        I am always startled by the continued blame-game, even especially in the arts, where an individual goes on a personal journey to explore his/her god-given gift in creativity. On this journey their discoveries are certainly personal, but at some point they may choose to share it with others, where they even obtain financial compensation from those who take interests in such creative expressions. The public, and those outside the artist’s own community and culture has no obligation to make sure that the artist makes a living, nor gain fame from their crafts. And, if the artist own community and people sees no reason to buy or collect the art work, then why blame “joe public” for also abstaining from buying or supporting?

        In the past, some writers here on Hyperallergic, have openly attacked the character of Bill Cosby, an African-Americans of great fame, who has for many years publicly and privately supported and collected fine art by black artists. While the writers may have been doing so in reference to Cosby’s recent legal dilemma over sexual conduct with women in his glam circle, they went too far by trying to rally sanctions of his unique art collections from being displayed publicly in America. And, that is a disservice to those artists of colour whose careers benefited from Cosby’s conscious effort to shine light on them, and other extraordinary talents, whom the art world largely ignores.

    2. Dear Solomon,

      Thanks for pitching in. I think you are gravely mistaken–at least in your assumption that we should treat the market as the ultimate arbiter of our aesthetics and our ethics. A similar argument has often been made with regard to de facto segregation or the “right” or shop keepers to refuse to serve blacks, with the contention that eventually the market will right the scales and that only businesses that do cater to all potential customers survive. This is in the public history of the Civil Rights Movement. In fact, I argue, as Nizan does in the article above, that too much of the art field is already in thrall to the market. We have inherited systems of valuation that always already inflect what we imagine is worth promoting or buying. It serves to keep in mind that part of the art collection field are institutions such as public museums which were inaugurated in the desire to create a mechanism for universal education. More, museums are also keepers of cultural memory, and they are among the very few organizations that define a civic space: not the place of employment and not the private home where we come together to form and create a thing we can call society.

      The social practices that are truly valuable to the commonwealth besides ownership of things, simply cannot be left up to the marketplace alone if they are to flourish. You’ve laid out an argument that I think fails because it doesn’t acknowledge our crucial need for art outside to the circumstance of private ownership.

      1. Sept, the first thing black folks/people of colour need to do is move to a mindset of value for their cultural objects, and this is not just in America, but globally. Build worth into their culture and themselves. The Chinese are beginning to learn to do this, and the Asian-Indians are learning as well to do this. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, there is no need to be cry-babies. All countries will eventually need to shift to a system of capitalism, where everything will be classified as commodity for commerce.

        I have watched over the years how black folks take for granted arts and crafts created by people in their own communities, and spent enormous amount of money on items from communities outside their own. I have witness the closing of many black-owned arts and crafts shops which specialized in items from local artists, artists from the Caribbean and from Africa. While at the same time saw the success of white owned, Indian owned, and Chinese owned shops specializing in the same items flourishing. All frequented by black customers too!

        The explanation that most all black store owners pin-pointed as a major factor in closing in local communities was the lack of their own people’s support. When black customers visited the stores, they were not willing to pay the asking prices for items, but instead wanted a bargain. And, if they couldn’t get a bargain, they simply would leave. While white customers on the other hand usually bought the items without argument. They bought the items because they saw the perceived current value, and perhaps future rise in value too. It may be a cultural mindset, where black folks seem to live for the moment, while white folks seem to exist in a state of now and tomorrow, with clear laid-out future projections – 5 year plans, 10 year plans, 30 year plans, and even 100 year plans. This is local with individuals as well as with their businesses. Art valuation especially benefits from such a mindset.

        Black people/people of colour, need to develop their own perception of reality if they wish to succeed in a fast changing world that has long kept them from the table of power. They must keep in mind though that, the systems of the west were conceptualized and brought about by men and women who did not take into consideration the aspirations of cultures other than those which they themselves evolved from. They did not have any obligations to do other than what they did. No nation builders ever had. This is their realty we are all living in now – like or not, accept it or not. Those who are currently unsatisfied with it, who feel marginalized, then must try and disrupt and re-adjust it to suit their own comfort levels. Or, do like the Chinese has done and build a better mouse-trap!

        1. Dear Solomon,

          I fundamentally disagree with your main premise that everything is destined to become a commodity in the marketplace. In fact, the opposite claim can easily be made: that we are globally starting to become intensely aware of the panoply of privations to which laissez-faire capitalism exposes the majority of us. I understand what you are saying. I just think your notion of value is too blinkered. Perhaps we should leave it here, since we seem to be talking past each other.

          1. Seph, am an optimist, and I never work from a viewpoint of begging for anything nor waiting for others to do what God has given me the ability to do for myself and others, just as any other human being on this earth. People of colour are capable of doing anything and everything when they put the effort in. Rather than focusing attention on articles about the problems and faults of the current art market and the people who control it, there should be more focus on real solutions that people of colour could actually use to immediately implement and elevate their status. In America alone, as of 2015, the annual spending power of the approximately 45 million black population is over $1 TRILLION DOLLARS! It currently takes only 15 minutes for every dollar to leave the black community! A hundred years ago, it took nearly a year, circulation some 35 times before it finally exited the community! When the people start focusing on doing for self once again, then they will find solutions to many of their current problems.

  7. Hmm…its interesting that as an artist I’m always told to avoid the topic of race, but that topic seems to get the most response. Oh the irony lol.

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