Monday, September 18, 2006

Poland here I come! black alphabet - conTEXTS of contemporary African-American art

September 22-November 19
Black Alphabet is the first Exhibition of African American Art in Zacheta Art Gallery and it shows for the first time in Poland a differnt view over the African Americans claim to being the dominant force in world popular culture, from music to lifestyle. Rap, gangster duels, sports stars launching their own brands: all this is familiar to us as the popular face of contemporary America.
From the 60’s onwards, when all forms of race segregation were removed in the U.S.A., artists representing the African American community could freely, without encountering obstacles, join the developments taking place in American social, scientific, cultural and artistic life, and also, an element not without its significance, join the market.
African American art refers both to contemporary, as well as to historical, problems of slavery, and political, social and cultural violence, as well as to the question of the identity of the black race in the U.S.A. as a fundamental element in the national structure of the country. The youngest generation of artists draws its inspiration from new black culture, hip-hop and street culture. To the so-called "post-black" generation belong those who do not deal with questions of race and slavery, but who rather freely explore new media and techniques, engaging with questions of a strictly artistic nature.

black alphabet - conTEXTS of contemporary african-american art
23 September 2006 - 19 November 2006

black alphabet is the first presentation in Europe of a group exhibition from the USA focused on the most powerful elements in contemporary American art created by African American artists. It will thus enable a deep and engaged exploration of this highly significant element within American culture, that at best is known only selectively, and at worst is absolutely unknown, on the 'old continent'…

The boom in African American art started with the highly significant exhibitions organized in the 80s (Harlem Renaissance: Art of Black America, 1988 at Studio Museum in Harlem, Afro-American Abstraction, 1981 at the PS1 or Art As A Verb: The Evolving Continuum, 1988 at the Maryland Institute, Baltimore, Transformations and Traditions: Contemporary Afro-American Sculpture, 1989 at The Bronx Museum of Art) and was then confirmed in shows such as Blues Aesthetic: Black Culture and Modernism (Washington Project for the Arts, 1990), Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary Art (Whitney Museum of American Art, 1994), the crucial and widely acclaimed exhibition titled Freestyle (Studio Museum in Harlem, 2001) that featured the most interesting African American artists of the young and middle generations. Thereafter, it has flowered in more specialized exhibitions, such as Black Romantic (2002) focused on figurative and narrative painting and Black Belt (2003/2004) exploring the cross-cultural relations of the influence of Asian culture, all presented at the Studio Museum in Harlem, as well as Fade: African American Artists in Los Angeles, A Survey Exhibition (a three part exhibition series that featured black art in Los Angeles over the past thirty years, 2003/2004) and Double Consciousness – Black Conceptual Art Since 1970 (2004) organized at the MOCA in Houston by Valerie Cassel Oliver as well as One Nation Under a Groove: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art at The Bronx Museum of Art, (2002) and most recently exhibitions such as Hairstories (Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, 2005) or Frequency (Studio Museum in Harlem, 2005/2006) that again highlighted a large spectrum of new, talented, emerging or already established artists. All these exhibitions, as well as others too many to mention, have led to an intensive and wide-ranging process of the discovery, promotion and acknowledgement of African American art in the USA. Many of these exhibitions were covered by the most celebrated critics and became events of almost legendary status, strongly imprinted in the collective memory of the contemporary American art scene. For many of us they were often the best or strongest events during US artistic seasons.

It is of course obvious that such events resulted in great success for many of the artists who participated in these shows and were then included in another American group shows, enriching them with their fresh context and exceptional styles and power.

Unfortunately these important artistic events within American culture, and all the unique voices thus discovered and brought into the limelight in the USA, have received only limited recognition outside and have not been adequately acknowledged by art specialists.

It is a loss of quite inconceivable proportions for all of us who work in the international and so called global art net that the most influential and creative forces in today’s American art are known only locally within the American national context. How can it be that in the age of the most advanced international exchange between all continents, countries, nations, races and so on, both the power of the African American group shows and the individual quality of each artist and artwork remain closed to the world audience and 'ghettoized' within one nation? There are of course a few exceptions, a few artists who are well established internationally, but even they are not known in a wide enough way to satisfy both art professionals and the perception of art of the common audience outside America, an audience that is usually hungry for art from this legendary country. If in the 90s, with American multiculturalism African American artists came into their own, why is this phenomenon still only centered on the American art scene (or, more precisely, on the New York art scene) and not widely exposed, internationally active and multiculturally existent within a world that is itself naturally multicultural?

Thus, the exhibition black alphabet will expose our audiences to art being made in a different kind of America than the one they are perhaps used to. We deeply believe that this exhibition has an important role to play in highlighting African American art in order to finally 'unghettoize' it from within American culture (in order to expose the fact that America is not a single homogenous entity, but is composed of a range of highly diverse cultural contexts).

In order to fulfill this mission, we would like to bring African American art to international consciousness, as well as to connect it with us, with our own contexts…. In order to achieve this, we will abandon the label of so called 'black art' or 'black artists', going beyond 'blackness' to rather focus on just investigating the power of art and identifying its diverse contexts, styles, individual perceptions and artistic positions. The exhibition will thus create a new platform for African American art and we believe it will initiate a new existence for it within the world of global art – one that is interesting and seductive enough to be embraced by the international art net which is still predominantly white, or perhaps on occasions yellow, and even less often black.

As a first introduction of this art in Europe, black alphabet is planned as a survey of contemporary art and an extensive presentation of about 40 artists working in different media (painting, sculpture, photography, video, video installations, performance and sound and digital projects).

The exhibition will include works by:
Laylah Ali, Edgar Arceneaux, John Bankston, Sanford Biggers, Mark Bradford, Michael Paul Britto, Nick Cave, Zoe Charlton, Leonardo Drew, Ellen Gallagher, Trenton Doyle Hancock, David Hammons, Leslie Hewitt, Shaun El C., Glenn Ligon, Kalup Linzy, Wardell Milan, Rodney McMillan, Lester Julian Merriweather, Kori Newkirk, Demetrius Oliver, Kambuji Olujimi, Jefferson Pinder, Robert Pruitt, Lorna Simpson, Xaviera Simmons, Susan Smith-Pinelo, Jeff Sonhouse, Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems, Fred Wilson, Kehinde Wiley, Paula Wilson, Hank Willis Thomas, Jennifer Zackin

curator Maria Brewinska
assistant curator Joanna Sokołowska

Honorary Patron of the Exhibition: Ambassador of the United States of America in Warsaw His Excellency Victor Ashe.

sponsors of the exhibition: Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland, Trust for Mutual Understanding, CEC ArtsLink, USA Embassy of the United States of America in Warsaw, Deutsche Bank, Kosciuszko Foundation

Dirrrty Harriet Tubman opens in St. Louis September 15th.

Michael Paul Britto's Project Series Dirrrty Harriet Tubman organized by our Chief Curator, Shannon Fitzgerald, is slated to open this September. The first work is a funny and irreverent action-movie trailer entitled Dirrrty Harriet Tubman. It presents a unique re-imaging of freedom fighter Harriet Tubman as a blaxploitation super heroine. The second work, I'm A Slave 4 U, presents a Britney Spears music video completely recast with black actors wearing 19th century slave costumes. Britto choreographed his dancers to a sequence based on common slave practices like chores and picking cotton.

Shannon has decided to incorporate a laudable compliment to Britto's work; there will be a continuous screening of Isaac Julien's documentary BaadAsssss Cinema: A Bold Look at 70's Blaxploitation Films in Teaching Gallery One (the neighboring gallery to the SBC New Media Gallery where Britto's work will be projected).

The pieces by Britto and Julien included in the exhibit do function independently. However, I feel Britto's Project Series is fantastically supported by Julien's documentary. Watching Dirrrty Harriet Tubman after viewing BaadAsssss Cinema benefits the overall experience you will have of Britto's Project Series. The documentary fills viewers in on the powerful significance of the blaxploitation genre, probing into the direct influence it had on our economy, movie culture, and the creation of black stereotypes. Julien's documentary is a highly enjoyable educational experience that provides crucial insight to understanding the multi-layered work created by Britto. It brings to light Britto's illumination and critique of the mass media's perpetuation of racial and gender stereotypes. So, I'd recommend allotting enough time in your schedule to experience Dirrrty Harriet Tubman and BaadAsssss Cinema (56 minutes) together. Also, if you are still thirsting for more information on the concepts represented in both works, we are currently preparing a reading table with pertinent journals and books focusing on these topics. If you want to look into another great project by Britto, check out his documentary on the history of the handshake