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"Is that a razor blade she's holding?"
This was my observant friend's first reaction when I shared my current reading material.
This week, I resumed reading a book that's been leaving impressions on just about all interactions that I've had lately--from workplace conversations about regional cultural climates to quieter moments of reflection about racism.
Gwendolyn Dubois Shaw's, Seeing the Unspeakable: The Art of Kara Walker, has considered Walker's evolution as an artist while distilling the painful reality of racism at the same time. Furthermore, it discusses the formation of a global dialogue that can stir complex feelings about one's own identity. Chapter 4, "Censorship and Reception," was especially considerate in relating Walker's powerful imagery. While reading, I learned that even fellow artists have questioned Walker's "appropriateness," which brings up an important question: who do we ultimately answer to as individual artists, and how does a sense of community foster that?
Race dominates everything, yet within it Ms. Walker finds a chaos of contradictory ideas and emotions. She is single-minded in seeing racism as a reality, but of many minds about exactly how that reality plays out in the present and the past.What I admire about Walker's career is her appeal to viewers that rests upon disconcerting moments influencing contemporary culture. Installations such as Insurrection (Our Tools Were Rudimentary, Yet We Pressed On) invite visitors to examine the smaller actions assigned to each silhouetted figure. Violence, whimsy, and an overarching solitude embody each figure; each is seeking liberation in some form (sexual, emotional, and everything in between).
This is what I learned today: During a multi-themed conversation with the aforementioned friend, I did mention ruminations about race, national identity, and other details that marked daily events. Sometimes, I get embarrassed for expressing this, and wonder if it's imaginary. Yet, in a moment of unexpected happenstance, a young girl walked by and made a fairly racialized remark that seemed to fit the prior conversation to an unsettling degree. It was both comforting for being tangible to the friend and frustrating for its misguided carelessness. We walked on and noted the passing encounter. The truth is that I was glad someone was there to witness, and I suspect that Shaw had a desire to share this (potentially) mutual consciousness about Walker's work, too. Contextualizing our experiences is at the heart of creative liberation.
I'm asking more questions lately about making art and deciding what it's for on a broader scale, and would like to hear more about your own experiences as an art supporter, critic, or maker. Where does your identity fit into your understanding of this part of culture?
Please feel free to share moments of controversy, empowerment, guidance, and community!