November Highlights: Crucial Voices and Turning Tides

In spite of all the amazing art I got to see this month, I think my November highlight has to be the two nights in a row I was able to attend free, very accessible artist talks right here in Brooklyn. I left both completely inspired and eager to dig deeper into the intersection of art and activism.

On Nov 11th I attended a talk with Juan Sanchez discussing the work in his solo exhibit “What’s the Meaning of This?” (currently on display at BRIC).

Image courtesy of bricartsmedia.org
Image courtesy of bricartsmedia.org

Sanchez is a prominent Nuyorican artist (I had to look this up: it refers to the community of Puerto Rican immigrants or migrants and their descendants living in New York) and his work encompasses themes of race, class, culture, community, and identity. This was my first introduction to him and I was blown away– his collages are deceptively beautiful at first glance, but upon closer inspection the nuances bear heartbreaking, often graphic tributes to his subjects. His work is both brutal and fearless; relentlessly honest and compassionate. He compels us to stare into the face of loss, murder, death and sacrifice and to question the meaning for ourselves. At the end of the evening, I think what impressed me the most was the powerful yet natural bond between art and politics in his work. He makes it look so easy.

The following evening I attended a roundtable discussion at Brooklyn Museum hosted by the Sackler Center “We Wanted a Revolution.” The premise of the discussion was the politics of feminism and art in the 70’s surrounding both race and class. The panelists were Linda Goode Bryant, Maren Hassinger, Dindga McCannon, Lorraine O’Grady (Howardena Pindell was unable to attend).

Image courtesy of Sackler Center @feministart

Again, I was introduced to art and creators I had never heard of before, and I was completely inspired by this group of strong, brilliant (devastatingly intelligent) women who were each artists, activists and feminists in their own right (one can argue that the last two traits are inherent if you are a female artist).

One of the things that struck me from both of these nights was the fact that they centered around artists of color who have been actively practicing their art for years — decades, in fact. While most of these artists have garnered relative success and are greatly respected within the art community, each is still categorically under-represented in the art world at large–a fact which underlines the gaping void of color in American art history. These voices (of all colors and cultural backgrounds) are so important and completely relevant to who we are. They are crucial voices. We need them. We also need to realize that they are not “emerging” voices. They aren’t coming out of nowhere. They have been there the entire time, shouting into the void. It’s time to listen.

“These are not “emerging” voices. They aren’t coming out of nowhere. They have been there the entire time, shouting into the void. It’s time to listen.

And maybe we finally are. This article has been circulating the social outlets this week; it’s about the rise of black artists’ work being shown in museums and galleries. It definitely resonates with both of the talks I attended and seems to reflect a larger trend. There is hope that this movement will transcend fad and have staying power; that these overlooked voices will finally be given the (long overdue) amplification they deserve.

Note: This is the part where it is easy to start criticizing…the phrase “too little, too late” comes leaping to mind, bold and in all caps. But to paraphrase the gracious words of Dindga McCannon during the Brooklyn museum panel: better too late than not at all. I’m glad the tide is starting to turn. And it’s exciting to be part of the conversation–even if it’s just listening in (at the really amazing art talks I have access to…god, I love this city).



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