Required Reading

This week, the earliest humans, an enjoyable Bernadette Corporation takedown, feminist craftivism, Afrosurrealism, Arizona’s strange Confederate monuments, and more.

The Jebel Irhoud site in Morocco where the 300,000-year-old homo sapiens fossils were found, suggesting that human evolution may have no emerged from one place but may have emerged from more than one cradle of civilization. (image Credit Shannon McPherron, MPI EVA Leipzig, License: CC-BY-SA 2.0, full story at New York Times)

As a whole, the exhibition is far less interesting than any of its sources. Think of it as the visual equivalent of flatulence in a bubble bath.

Only one piece does more than highlight its desire to be academic. It’s also the crudest. With a syringe for a beak, bent drinking straws for legs and a foam cup for its head, “Gull Sculpture” is an antidote to the overproduced nonsense that makes up the rest of the exhibition. This show would be better if it were forgettable.

The pussyhat is part of a larger contemporary phenomenon known as Craftivism, which actively challenges the longstanding disparagement of women’s traditional art forms and has itself become a vehicle for feminist opposition.

The women of Homer’s epics (8th c. BCE) are told repeatedly to return to their weaving and stay out of the business of men. In the Iliad Andromache, wife of the Trojan warrior Hector, meets her husband on the city’s famous walls. She knows too well the toll of war; her father and seven brothers were killed in battle and her mother enslaved. She asks Hector to take up position in a less dangerous area of the battlefield. He replies, “Go home and tend to your own tasks, the distaff and the loom, and keep the women working hard as well. As for the fighting, men will see to that.” With Andromache silenced, Hector returns to the battlefield; he is killed and she enslaved.

In the Odyssey Penelope, still awaiting Odysseus’s return, overhears a bard singing tales of the Greek warriors’ homecomings. Descending to the suitors’ feast, she requests a different song, whereupon her teenage son Telemachus repeats Hector’s words to Andromache almost verbatim: “Go back to your quarters. Tend to your own tasks, the distaff and the loom, and keep the women working hard as well. As for giving orders (mythos), men will see to that.” Mythos here connotes public speechmaking, from which Greek (and later Roman) women were always excluded.

In these Homeric passages, men’s activities are dynamic and variable while women are meant to remain fixed in the interior of the house, engaged in the static occupation of wool-work. Wives who uphold these divisions become archetypes of marital chastity; Penelope has indeed come down to us as the paradigmatically chaste Greek woman whose fidelity to her husband withstands two decades of his absence.

Kelley: There is an inherent prejudice against Surrealism because of its mixed history. By mixed history, I mean a multiracial, trans-global history. That’s why it was important that Franklin wrote the introduction, that was done by consensus for good reason. He’s been having to write this for three or four decades. You may believe Surrealism is this, or hack journalists say it’s that, but this is the truth. Surrealism stays connected to the struggle, and isn’t exclusionary or racist. When I first started talking about Surrealism and the Black Radical Tradition, I would get people believing they were racist in the romanticization of primitivism. Which may be true, but put that in historical context, it all makes sense. Look to Senghor and in hindsight, criticize him for his essentialism, criticize him for the way he’s so romantic about the African past, and the only way to have that critique is to have the experience of a post-colonial Africa. Standing in 1935, no one knows what’s coming down the pike from Africa in the violence and oppression that you can’t romanticize or essentialize Africa. Even the notion of essentialism comes from a critique of a certain kind of Identity Politics, which comes out of political struggle. The critique we rage against Surrealism and its flirtation with Primitivism comes out of the critique that would not be possible until after Revolutionary Nationalism, and the critique of Cultural Nationalism. So the critique, I feel, is legitimate, but to me, we must remember what was at stake. We must ask the question what the European Surrealist were attracted to as what they saw as Primitivism.

Those of us who are routinely called “bitch”, “faggot” or “nigger” on the regular –and who are threatened with violence and death – have a much harder time accessing the right of “free speech”. Just look at what happened to Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, a Princeton professor and the author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, last week.

Taylor is a rising public intellectual, and the students of Hampshire College asked her to be their commencement speaker. She gave a forceful, riveting address in which she correctly said that Donald Trump had “fulfilled the campaign promises of a campaign organized and built upon racism, corporatism and militarism”. While it was excellent, it wasn’t really a matter of national news. But Fox News decided it was and whipped up hysteria around her.

Not long after a “Fox story and video were published”, Taylor wrote, “my work email was inundated with vile and violent statements. I have been repeatedly called ‘nigger,’ ‘bitch,’ ‘cunt,’ ‘dyke,’ ‘she-male,’ and ‘coon’ – a clear reminder that racial violence is closely aligned with gender and sexual violence. I have been threatened with lynching and having the bullet from a .44 Magnum put in my head.” She had to cancel talks in Seattle and San Diego.

They tell another, even less well-known story: one of white Southerners who moved to Arizona in the post-World War II era and brought their fondness for intimidating black citizens with them. The state’s oldest Confederate memorial was dedicated nearly 80 years after the Civil War ended, in 1943. The newest, shockingly, went up in 2010.

  • And support Native American education by purchasing a Pendleton blanket, which benefits the American Indian College Fund is called “Gift of the Earth.” It honors the Hopi Tribe of the Southwest:

Required Reading is published every Sunday morning ET, and is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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