An Ambitious but Essential Multi-Purpose Checklist for Discerning Black Artists
1. Be steadfast.
To be steadfast is to take a risk veiled in privilege. It is a risk because to not be malleable, to live in a singular consciousness instead of two, without appeasing your oppressor, is bold without apology or explanation. It is a privilege because our world says this action is not for you. You are to bend, break, and befall for no advantage or opportunity but to remain inches above the surface moments from drowning. Be steadfast, do not waver, make work, make conversation, and make a life that is resolute in sharing truth, gaining knowledge, and celebrating blackness.
2. Find your audience. Help them hear you.
Determine the possible outcomes of allowing an audience to find you, despite the inherent risks of:
- Luring sympathizers instead of empathizers.
- Inciting outrage toward the artist, rather than the begging-to-be-questioned socio-political building blocks of Western society such as police brutality, cultural appropriation, and a historicized pattern of violence against people of color.
- Creating a schism between the work and the audience, thus potentially propagating black suffering as entertainment.
Consider the possible outcomes of seeking your ideal audience, despite the inherent risks of:
- Limiting perspectives and thwarting opportunity for open dialogue, education, and new ideas.
- Unintentionally curtailing criticism.
Or, the opportunity of:
- Curating an audience that allows for inclusivity and community participation.
3. Create the role you want, refute the one you are given.
My work addresses black lives and inherently black issues. Spaces of community building, the perils of a bombastic media, and fear catalyzed by complacency. My work encourages questioning so that a desire for deeper understanding and knowledge of black culture and experience is not, on its face, problematic. That said, I am not a black experience liaison. There are endless questions I do not have to answer, there are opinions I do not have to respect, and there are ideals and beliefs which implicate my rights and safety which I will not entertain.
So, I suggest:
Next time a peer, with what one assumes are good intentions, reminds you they don’t see color, tell them to read page 140 of Salt by Nayyirah Waheed.
Next time a coworker questions the veracity of woke online black communities, tell them to follow Kinfolk Kollective on Facebook.
Next time a professor talks more than listens, tell them to read “Are You Sure You’re Not A Racist?”
Found here: http://time.com/4544356/jodi-picoult-confronts-racism/
(the unexpected juxtaposition of TIME/Jodi Picoult/Racism should be enough to ensure they click on the link).
Next time a friend asks what book they should read next, tell them to read:
- Negroland by Margo Jefferson
- The Sellout by Paul Beatty
- The Great Migration: An American Story by Jacob Lawrence
- Harare North by Brian Chikwava
- The River Between by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o
Or, if the task of sharing relevant books, articles, and blogs is just too taxing, simply remind them that despite public school systems teaching solely white history to black students for twelve of their formative years, you have managed to garner both an understanding of history and an indelible point of view. Kindly, or as you so choose, recommend that they take advantage of the bounty of knowledge at their footsteps and read a book, take a class, follow a blog, and learn something, anything, for themselves.
Kelly Taylor Mitchell (RISD MFA 2018, Printmaking)
Prints for Protest: Black People Don’t Owe You Shit!
Black People Don’t Owe You Shit presents an irrefutable shibboleth, which shares the prints title, while offering a collection of Black cultural icons that continue to inform and influence the greater American culture. This print exemplifies the lacking reciprocity between Black culture and America and the power of shrouding powerful truths in love. This print is one of twelve from RISD MFA Printmakers’ post-election collection Prints for Protest. One hundred percent of profits from the collection went to organizations working to protect the rights of the marginalized.
Again and Again
In Again and Again Gary Simmons marries the ritualistic routine of the screenprinting processes and the lived experience of black bodies. Rules, expectations, and frustration exist in both of these realms, where the possibilities present as limitless but systemic constraints often attempt to thwart progress, regardless the choice to remain steadfast persists.
Tia Blassingame (RISD MFA 2015, Printmaking)
Tia Blassingame’s Settled presents poems of “African American sediment or constant middle passage.” This handmade book works to contemporize violence against people of color while actively unpacking the complexities of racism and dismantling theories of a post-racial America. Blassingame corrals her audience by presenting a collective trauma through a personal means of coping.
The iconic Farmer’s Nooning reproduced and referenced time and time again asks us, what will happen next? Are our assumptions valid? Do we choose to conflate the role of the oppressor and the oppressed? Most importantly, it begs us to consider our powerlessness or uninfringed ability to define our own identity.
Kelly Taylor Mitchell
RISD MFA 2018, Printmaking