As you and I continue on this journey into social justice and how it shows itself in art, hopefully your ideas on how artists' choose resistance have been amplified.Resistance, of course, can be hard. I use the fish in a bowl as an analogy. We are the fish. We need water. It seems nearly impossible to resist what we need to live. But we can fight to make the water clearer and cleaner. This applies to everyday people in society. In this case the water is the oppression and structural mechanisms put in place that do not allow for an equal spread of resources among people, further creating privileges. These artists' in this showcase at Tacoma Art Museum are not riding the waves. They are fighting for clearer, cleaner water. And in return they want onlookers to see just how much our waters have been blurred.
The piece on the left, created by Kerry James Marshall stood out to me for the innocence and beauty that the array of flowers on the cross displayed. On further examination, I realized the message was much more sad and was there to acknowledge the four girls killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. I had learned about this bombing back in middle school and remember being so sad that four girls that looked like me had lost their lives because of deeply rooted racism. When I see those girls in pictures, I see myself. I see young Black girls so full of life. Looking at the flowers gave me some sort of beauty behind this tragedy. After a few minutes of examining this, it infuriated me to see that when someone hates and they believe their ideas of a group of people are correct, they will act on ways to terminate their lives. Even if it is four innocent girls.
The painting above created by Nina Chanel Abney is entitled 'Class of 2007'. It immediately stood out to me for it's large size. It takes up a large section of the wall and features Black men and women dressed in orange jumpsuits and a White prison guard on the side, garnished with a gun. Prior to seeing this painting I saw the documentary, '13th' which was directed by Ava Duvernay and provides analysis on the history of the 13th amendment and how it has become a loophole to allow slavery to still exist in the form of prisons. Because of this loophole, people of color are affected more by the justice system and certain movements that were passed off as helping society put away criminals (ex. War On Drugs, Three Strikes policy, etc). Structural and historical oppression is like a curse therefore passed on and allows for extermination of people of color from the streets and creates discourse around what a 'criminal' or 'thug' is. The penal system have become institutions of profit as more private prisons continue to be built. If this institution is so lucrative, why would they want alternative options to prison? This greed shows itself in the terrifying statistic that 1 in 4 people imprisoned are in the United States. When I see this painting, I see slavery in an updated version. No matter what bill is passed, they still found a way to keep people of color in chains. I also see a normalcy in this outfit. It's become easy for the Black man or woman to play the criminal. I also think about how I constantly battle everyday to not be restrained by this haunting reality. The title of the painting also stands out to me: Class of 2007. Like the prisoners are students placed here for a photo, awaiting graduation and the next stage in their lives.But this is not that. There is no graduation. This is a replica of what the 13th amendment loophole looks like.
The piece created on the left is an enormous wall of cotton created by Leonardo Drew. When I first looked at this I thought labor. I thought of slavery back in the 1800's and how my ancestors worked tirelessly to fulfill the needs of their masters. I thought of the amount of hours my people spent in the sun, all while dreaming of a better life. This wall to me represents internalized self-hate that some Black people have harbored over the years. While ill intention or even awareness is not always seen, it's impact is forever stained in the minds of the young and blooms as we age. To me, this wall shows a wall we did not create but that we still feed into. For example, slavery created the division of light skin and dark skin in Black society. This is an idea we still see; scrolling down Facebook timelines and Twitter news feeds. Some sort of mental healing must be done in order to break this chain that we continue to tighten. At some point we must take a look at ourselves and say, why do I feed into this hate. Some things in history we must leave behind. And no, it will not be easy. But with patience and psychological healing, it can be done.