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.