Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? by Touré, a thoughtful look at the Black experience in the post Civil Rights era. Certainly, there are a million good reasons to read this book. But it should hold special interest for the artsy fartsies, since this tome teases out ideas about contemporary Black identity that were articulated, early on, in the world of art — specifically, by artist Glenn Ligon and curator Thelma Golden at the Studio Museum Harlem, in the 2001 exhibition Freestyle. The book, refreshingly, features interviews with many artists as part of its research: Ligon, as well as Rashid Johnson, Kara Walker, Lorna Simpson, Kehinde Wiley, Julie Mehretu, Barkley Hendricks and others.
From an interview with Carrie Mae Weems, on p. 209 (Free Press, Kindle Edition, 2011):
One of the ways in which I measure whether or not someone is really being successful is to the extent that their work is allowed to really circulate broadly throughout American culture. To that extent it’s a very circumspect and very confined territory that Black artists occupy. We’re certainly not considered a part of the cannon, the great canon of American artistic practice. When we look at the great movements in art, whether it’s abstract expressionism or modernism or impressionism or cubism or constructivism, we’re not a part of those movements. We’re not seen as part of those aspects of invention so to that extent, you’re always marginalized because you’re not considered part of the group of people who really had a hand in the shaping of quote, ‘serious artistic practice.’ So, you know, when your work comes up for auction, it’s not considered a part of the major cannon, it’s like this derivative practice. So you might spend a couple hundred thousand for it but you would never spend $10 million for it. Basquiat is in the million-dollar range but he’s sort of like the anomaly and he’s still not the commodity that Warhol is or any of the other practitioners that came along with Basquiat at that moment right. His auction price sort of tells you how he’s really considered in the grand scheme of things next to those people that are considered major. So my great humiliation is that the work is always considered in light of the bigger cannon and in that sense I’m just small potatoes.
I’m not trying to give up my Blackness so that I can be an artist. I’m interested in my Blackness being considered a part of the greater humanity like whiteness. If we assume that when we talk about de Kooning, we assume that de Kooning is speaking to all of us even though he’s painting white people. Why can’t my ‘Kitchen Table’ series stand for more than the Black woman who’s in the picture? Why does it have to be considered less than Cindy Sherman’s films do? It’s still considered less than those things because of this sort of changing same, because it was made by a Black person and Black people still are not completely taken seriously in the same way for their production. And I can’t think of the person who’s really surpassed that or surmounted that yet in any serious way. And certainly not as a group.
Weems’s photographs are currently on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, as part of the exhibit Blues for Smoke.
A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway, about art and the writing life in Paris in the 1920s. Especially worth it for his reminisces of Gertrude Stein (“she does talk a lot of rot sometimes”) and the hot mess of a couple that was Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
P. 69 (Bantam Edition, 1965, found in an untidy little bookstore in Salta, Argentina):
You got very hungry when you did not get enough to eat in Paris because all the bakery shops had such good things in the windows and people ate outside at tables on the sidewalk so that you saw and smelled the food. When you had given up journalism and were writing nothing that anyone in America would buy, explaining at home that you were lunching out with someone, the best place to go was the Luxembourg gardens where you saw and smelled nothing to eat all the way from the Place de l’Observatoire to the rue de Vaugirard. There you could always go into the Luxembourg museum and all the paintings were sharpened and clearer and more beautiful if you were belly-empty, hollow-hungry. I learned to understand Cézanne much better and to see truly how he made landscapes when I was hungry. I used to wonder if he were hungry too when he painted; but I thought possibly it was only that he had forgotten to eat. It was one of those unsound but illuminating thoughts you have when you have been sleepless or hungry. Later I thought Cézanne was probably hungry in a different way.
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, which, ultimately, is a book that is all about life on the road.
P. 60 (HarperCollins Fifth Edition Reset, 1995, picked up at a bookstore in Cuzco):
Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.
(Photo by Dan Winters.)
From Colson Whitehead’s essay “A Psychotronic Childhood,” about growing up with B-movies in the New Yorker‘s sci-fi issue:
In keeping with my family’s affection for doomed product lines and hexed formats, we purchased a Betamax. The year before, we’d bought a TRS-80 instead of an Apple II, and in due course we’d unbox Mattel’s Intellivision, instead of Atari’s legendary gizmo. This was good training for a writer, for the sooner you accept the fact that you are a deluded idiot who is always out of step with reality the better off you will be.
The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain. A travelogue covering the author’s adventures through Europe and the Holy Land.
Page 137 (from the unabridged edition published by Dover in 2003):
We visited the Louvre, at a time when we had no silk purchases in view, and looked at its miles of paintings by the old masters. Some of them were beautiful, but at the same time they carried such evidences about them of the cringing spirit of those great men that we found small pleasure in examining them. Their nauseous adulation of princely patrons was more prominent to me and chained my attention more surely than the charms of color and expression which are claimed to be in the pictures. Gratitude for kindnesses is well, but it seems to me that some of those artists carried it so far that it ceased to be gratitude and become worship. If there is a plausible excuse for the worship of men, then by all means let us forgive Rubens and his brethren.
A family in in Zapallal, a squatter settlement on the outskirts of Lima. (Image courtesy of Andrés Marroquín Winkelmann.)
I’ve been marinating in photographer Andrés Marroquín Winkelmann’s latest book Zapallal | Yurinaki for several days — a chronicle of two Peruvian communities that are connected by circumstance and economics, even as they stand worlds apart. Separated by the Andes, Yurinaki sits at the edge of the central Amazon. Zapallal is located on the outskirts of Lima, tucked into the dusty-apocalyptic hills that make up the Peruvian coast.
The latter settlement came into existence in the 1980s, after a series of economic crises and the country’s simmering Internal Conflict led hundreds of thousands of rural Peruvians to migrate to the capital. Many of the residents of Zapallal hail from or are in some way linked to Yurinaki. But they are connected in other ways, too: by poverty, by social class, by their lack of political power.
In these communities, Marroquín Winkelmann finds a rare beauty. A young man sits cinematically in a mototaxi. A cat howls from a rickety wood platform while a pig watches pensively. A little boy plays in a toy car without wheels; he has nowhere to go. Marroquín uses lighting to dramatic effect — even in daylight settings — for images that take on an almost baroque quality in tone and content. (Note the daughter, above, in an almost blessing-like pose with the fly swatter.)
In Peru — a country where nearly one in ten people live in extreme poverty, and nearly one in three live under the poverty line — the lives of the poor can seem almost like an abstract concept. But Marroquín takes the statistics and makes them human, recording dignity where most folks wouldn’t think to look.
Zapallal | Yurinaki is available at Dalpine. Plus, see some of the images from the series on Marroquín’s website. (The puny images on my blog don’t do it justice.)
Roman copy of a 5th Century BCE Greek bas relief depicting Hermes, Orpheus and Eurydice, from the Museo Arqueologico Nazionale in Naples. (Image courtesy of Skidmore.)
A Visit From the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan. Page 214 (from the first Anchor Books edition):
He sensed the proximity of the Orpheus and Eurydice before he saw it, felt its cool weight across the room but prolonged the time before he faced it, reminding himself of the events leading up to the moment it described: Orpheus and Eurydice in love and newly married; Eurydice dying of a snakebite while fleeing the advances of a shepherd; Orpheus descending to the underworld, filling its dank corridors with music from his lyre as he sang of his longing for his wife; Pluto granting Eurydice’s release from death on the sole condition that Orpheus not look back at her during their ascent. And then the hapless instant when, out of fear for his bride as she stumbled in the passage, Orpheus forgot himself and turned.
Ted stepped toward the relief. He felt as if he’d walked inside it, so completely did it enclose and affect him. It was the moment before Eurydice must descend to the underworld a second time, when she and Orpheus are saying goodbye. What moved Ted, mashed some delicate glassware in his chest, was the quiet of their interaction, the absence of trauma or tears as they gazed at each other, touching gently. He sensed between them an understanding too deep to articulate: the unspeakable knowledge that everything is lost.
The second issue of PRISM Index, the beautifully crafted mixed-media literary/art/music mag is out and it’s looking just as beautiful as the first (which I wrote about here). As with the first go around, it’s got a lovely silkscreen cover stuffed with stories and art. (I’m digging the pieces by John Malta and Michael Deforge). The hand-stitched package also includes a DVD of short films and a CD of rare and unreleased music which is excellent for moody, bluesy chill-outs (really liking Ohioan’s Come, Reap). This is definitely a publication to dive into and get lost in.
Pick up a copy here.