Tarsila Do Amaral

I saw this show back in December and I am only now getting around to writing about it. The theme for this month is discipline and follow-thru, that means burning the end of some braids before they unravel completely. 

When I walked into the show I was struck by the outlines of the figures. The first peice on display for familiar to me from the advertising for the show. I always look for the image I saw on fliers when I get to the show because I'm a basic art hoe. In my head it's this magical moment where I imagine what I look like looking at the peice. Galleries are my favorite place to photograph.  

I was captivated by the consistency within the show. She drew the same shit over and over but never the same thing twice. I had never considered how many times an artist draws the same still life for practice. Maybe I had but I don't get to see all the iterations in museums often.  

The curves and fullness made her work feel embarrassingly approachable. We had a genuine ”i think I can do this” moment.  My son and I sat right on the floor and tried to recreate what we saw. I thought he would die of embarrassment at first but we got through it  I still have our quick sketches in a pile of other work on the long wooden table in my office. 

The articles I read about Tarsila and the show have faded and it seems dishonest to look it up but the lines in her pencil work are visible in my memory still.  

This is great if your looking for inspiration to pick up a pencil and just draw but you will have to catch it outside of Chicago because it's run at the Art Institute is over. My bad. 

Old Black Magic

Today my son repeated a part of a poem we heard during Old Black Magic almost a week ago.

"Preacher Man says you can have peace if you believe in the same God. Politician Man says you can have peace if the price is right."

We tried to remember if that is exactly how it went and then he casually mentioned "how good" that poem was. "That guy was cool," before walking off to brush his teeth before bed. We consume a lot of art, and I sometimes wonder what he things. What sticks, what matters to his young mind.

I have said before that I want him to know that there are many ways to be a person, a healthy human. There is space to be yourself in artist communities, and Chicago has an exceptionally vibrant artist community. He also got to take a picture with Sam Trump after listening to him accompany an immensely talented dancer.

My experience at the event confirmed the effectiveness of the energy work that I have been doing. I felt significantly less social anxiety. I committed to embracing "black magic" last year. By that I mean, pre-colonial spiritual knowledge as just that. As someone who studied religion in college, I know that modern Christianity incorporated pre-colonial rituals and a strong argument can be made that it is an evolution of our understand of God but that only made decolonizing my religious practice slightly easier.

Old Black Magic was right on time, for both of us. Art is a vital part of deconstruting what harms us. 

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Check out @ProductionColors

Check out @ProductionColors

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I made the mistake of not bringing a snack, so we ended up at Pleasant House Pub down the street. The drinks alone are worth the trip, and the bathroom is an extra bonus. I know, but the bathroom is unnecessarily beautiful.

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We all ended up heading to Hidden Figures after this. Long night, but worth the 4 hour nap I took two days later (the next day was lit too). Hidden Figures is a topic for another post tho. If you haven't seen it please do.

Reflecting on What The Body Knows

You could learn to fly if it meant you would live another day.
— Maame, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

More Information about Barak Ade Soleil

The space was hollow and small. glass doors on one end, wooden doors on the other. behind our seats, a row of windows overlooked large spotlights, the source of the other worldly light.  We were standing on the stage but we didn't know then we where a part of the performance. We would be moved in every sense of the word. On paper the performance was about exploring the interaction of race and disability thru dance. I am not sure that description does the depth of the work justice. I saw it as an essay in three parts.  

Part I :

He pushed thru the curtains without announcement. He didn't to ask for silence,  his silence demanded it. From the beginning his movements demanded so much from the audience. They reminded me of the yoga poses I hate to press myself into. Uncomfortable and peculiar but opening spaces within you that would otherwise go unexplored. The sounds of discomfort was part of the dance. The sound forced the discomfort back into your own body. He grunted and moaned, resurrecting the familiar ache of depression.

The Body Knows the Mind is in Control.

We confronted the sound of discomfort but also defiance. The frantic nature of determination when your mind and body are both enemy and ally.

ade Soleil pushed us to see him beyond the discomfort of movement, the story did not begin or end there. We watched him dripping in gold, slow winding in the familiar ecstasy of freedom. Bare chested and looking you straight in your soul, he dared you to look away. He forced each of us to confront what ever it was you felt watching him come thru like the dance hall queen completely owning his body and his sensuality. Edgeless and feeling triumphant, I couldn't have been prepared for the final chapter of part one.

I still don't know exactly what to make of the closing. It didn't understand why. What happened. I wish I could say it didn't invoke another familiar feeling. If you have ever stripped yourself bare you may understand it too. Some people see you as a full person others use it to dehumanize you. I felt like I was looking at that dehumanization, he pressed it into us. He made us think he needed us to hand feed him, made us feel sorry for him, for ourselves. I silently begged not to be chosen, felt frustrated by the variety of responses of those who were. No one spoke but everyone communicated. Shifting, avoiding eye contact, delighting in the feeding, contorted faces, "reading" the program, every movement communicated something. All different all telling.  He was watching us, we were performing too. He danced a complex set of emotions, unraveled a complex humanity and focused us to reconsider ourselves and our way of relating, rationalizing, hiding.


Part II

Jerron began his performance from the opposite side. The glass doors. Standing tall and straight. He marched in with wide steps hitting the floor hard. Each boom shacking the foundation of our expectations. My son whispered, "he doesn't have a disability."  I contemplated what my silence on disabilities had thought my child as I watched Jerron work to get his hand in his pocket, considered the beauty in the movement.  It wasn't swift or effortless and that's what made it such a beautiful part of the performance. Disability usually comes up on an as needed bases, to explain why accommodations are needed or to prevent my child from saying anything insensitive or looking too hard.

The Body Knows that if Used Carefully it Can Control the Mind of Another.

Jerron's performance took up a tremendous amount of space. His movements where large and his interactions with the audience were genial, in sharp contrast ade Soleil's solo performance. The privilege of taking up space, to move around as much as you like meant he stood directly in front of me but did not see me. He was in a world all his own. A world in plain sight I had never taken the time notice but have no access too. My approach was wrong, I had taught my child to see but ignore a type of difference.


Part III

The spotlights cast multiple shadows of varying density for each dancer. Amplifying there movements. What does movement cost us? Watching both men drip sweat, pushing , pulling, and twisting. The two men shared a stage. There movements were about relationship. Each performer relying on the other for support. Engaging the floor and wall as part of the dance. Their proximity to each other's bodies struck me a particularly bold, two black men are rarely seen in this way. They are not allowed to be so free they love their mirror image. They are not allowed to hold their sons so tight for so long. We allow them sexuality but never intimacy.

Even in the mist of such heavy emotion finding peace in the base and the bounce. I loved the abrupt change to club music, watching both men bouncing to the base. Feeding off each others energy reminding me to get out my feelings and enjoy the moment. I needed those breaks. Music that is all too often hyper masculine and problematic but so #unapologeticallyblack it still creates a common ground.

The Body Knows the Power of the Mind is Not Absolute.

There was much more to the performance than I am able to capture. As a parent I can't help but wonder what was going thru my sons mind and he watched with furrowed brows. I do know that conversation the dance inspired between us was much needed and one of the longest we have had in a while. I decided I wouldn't attempt to explain the dance. Really how could I pretend to know what the artist was thinking. What emotions he wanted the call forward? Maybe my explanation would spoil his insight. Instead we talked about the power of the mind, the need to consider the complexity of each persons identity and the need to be honest with yourself about your own complexity.

 

With Jerron

With Jerron

Margins to Frontiers: New Paradigms of #BlackMagic

I had the pleasure of attending the New Paradigms panel discussion with Thelma Golden, Glenn Ligon, Lynette Yiadom Boakye, and Cauleen Smith on October 20th at the Art Institute of Chicago. Thelma Golden was a wonderful moderator. She drew her questions for ever dimension of this space time continuum them cast them like a spell drawing out pounds of marinated taught for our greedy consumption. It seemed as tho she could walk on the plane of thought pointing out nuances in the landscape we may have missed. Other times her questions provided a needed boundary for more targeted exploration.

The thing that still stands out to me was the discussion of what is means to be a black artist right now. It seems there is a critical mass of black art and artist. There is no longer a need/urgency for comparing black artists to white artists or framing the work in the context of the white gaze. It reminded me of an article I recently read in the Harvard Business Review about "New Power."

"New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it."

Her mention of margins and centers, which happens to be the title of a very personally influential book by bell hooks,  made me wonder if she would identify her source of power as "new." She is absolutely a disrupter in the field and I THINK forged in the fires of black feminist taught and critical race theory so her response to the first question by a gentleman about the "feeling of outsiderness' is something I will be mulling over for some time. Let me start by saying that every artist rejected the notion of being an outsider. Which, I think, relates to the very strong shared sentiment that there is a critical mass of black artists," we have our own" so to speak. Here my mind wonders about Solange, the success of her new album and the surge of collective black action in support of black makers.

So the question that sticks in my mind is "outside of what?" Thelma Golden flipped the visuals to what is in the margin and what is in the center. She said "we now know that we where at the edge and everything was moving in that direction." The edge, then would be the forefront.  Time has proved her and her contemporaries right. Those thoughts that had been marinating since the 80s and 90s are now highly prized for intellectual consumption by audiences of varying densities of melanin.  

Charles hanging out with his book before the discussion started.

Charles hanging out with his book before the discussion started.

I think Lynette Yiadom Boakye response was the most soothing. For her, being an artist is about feelings of outsiderness. Artists tend to think themselves outside of something, whatever that something is. There is a deep preoccupation with inward thinking and a tendency towards introversion that is common in artists. An artists "something" then in a matter of scale and for this particular panel race relations/anxiety between white and black was the incorrect scale. A blanket of steaming complex black narratives. I think each arists response to what was critical influence for them revealed a bit about what they feel outside off and the rhythm that moves them.

I wanted to sit in my seat and watch everyone leave, their bodies would serves as the credits for a film a can never see again but I ran out, rushing Charles to be bathroom and worrying about how I would navigate the reception. I waited outside the bathroom stall contemplating my own outsider feelings. Outside of artist circles of any kind, outside of the Chicago academic circles, outside of black middle-class status. Outside of anything that seemed relevant in this space. I clumsily walked thru the reception putting to anemic wedges of pita on an absurdly large plate before finding us a quite corner to sit it. I tried to recap with my son who reminded me that he spent the entire time reading his book. We left shortly after. I felt desperate looking at the faces as they passed searching for an indication that they my be open to a conversation with a stranger. Troubling work in such a bright open space.

 

Glenn Ligon
A Small Band, 2015
Neon and paint
74 3/4 x 797 1/2 inches
(189.9 x 2025.7 cm)

Image from LUHRING AUGUSTINE

I want to talk endlessly about Glenn Ligon in this post but I am going to save it because i learned that he is currently installing this piece at the Stony Island Arts Bank! The Rebuild Foundation has already started advertising Ligon's presence in the space and I am really looking forward to attending and writing about the piece and the artist then. Stay Tuned.

LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE, Citrine by the Ounce, 2014, oil on canvas, 21 7/8 x 17 13/16 inches, 23 10/16 x 19 9/16 inches (framed), LYB14.006, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

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