I’ve not really written anything specific about Black History Month this year but I have thrown in some Black British content here and there. So I’m going to emulate last year’s BHM round up post for 2021. It’s been tough finding decent BHM content because so much of it is whitewashed or performative. People are retreading the same steps and the same “look at these famous slaves!” lists of influential Black people, often written by white people. Or pledges for more action that were made last year and the year before. I’m also not pleased about a few articles regarding more Black presence in the police force which is the most counterintuitive suggestion to make in any month, let alone Black History Month. But I digress.
Same format as last year—some stuff from the Web, some stuff from the Cultrface archives, and people you should follow.
The question that propels Emily Rapp Black’s Frida Kahlo and My Left Leg is simple and self-implicating: “Why do we (I) love Frida?” Throughout the book’s fourteen loosely-linked essays, Black lays claim to Kahlo for unique reason: like the painter became later in life, Black is an amputee, and both women’s lives were shaped by physical disability. In her youth, the author formed what she calls “the perfect imaginary friendship” with Kahlo. “I chose to try and understand the story of her body as a way of knowing or accessing mine,” Black writes, “as if the story of her life set out a path or trail that, no matter how difficult, I might follow.” Latching onto public figures like this is common among young disabled people, who are desperate to find other people in the world like us, to trace a possible road map for our own lives. Still Black admits the limits of an attachment to a woman who “lives only in the terrain of my imagination where I set all the terms of the story.”
But what about the rest of Kahlo’s legion of fans? Few, if any, other artists have become objects of such intense parasocial affection. Kahlo’s disembodied likeness adorns lipsticks, coasters, aprons, magnets, leggings, notebooks, keychains, backpacks, even Christmas ornaments. (Full disclosure: I have previously owned a Kahlo-emblazoned pencil case, t-shirt, pair of socks, and sticky-note pad; I still display her “Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair” in my bedroom.) Surely the outspoken communist would have abhorred the commercialization of her image and art. But what would she make of how her life has been interpreted, packaged, and flattened by her own admirers?
Hero worship is commonplace with the ever-evolving popularity of social media and the need to show the world and fellow fans that they love their fave and they’re better than yours. But with that adulation comes problematic behaviours, misguided quotes, and misunderstood ideologies. Frida Kahlo is no exception.
Ayla Angelos wrote about Brasilândia, a new multidisciplinary platform that showcases the work and communities of Black and LGBTQIA+ people.
Founded by Kelton Campos Fausto and Iama Martinho, Brasilândia was launched to provide content for the people in their neighbourhood. Kelton, a multidisciplinary artist, produces works in the video, painting and performance sphere. “They’re currently interested in the plastic construction of spiritual and cosmological scenes that propose living spaces and possibilities of health,” says Iama, “based on other ways of apprehending reality and the body.” Iama, on the other hand, is a stylist, creative, thinker and fashion producer whom within the Brasilandia space contributes to the production, styling and creation of content in all formats. She graduated in technical garment design and has since been centring her work on the production of fashion in conjunction with the “re-signification” of textile waste, as well as combining her experience as a trans woman living in a country where “transgender people are treated as garbage”.
I really like the tagline: “uma plataforma não uma objetificação” (a platform, not an objectification)
Jenifer has always been intrigued by portraying lesbian stories in this style, especially when she discovered the effects of storytelling in comic books. The form goes beyond simply having fun, and resonates with her in a more decisively profound way. “I always wished to see lesbian stories and art when I was growing up, and the lack of that was what ultimately motivated me to illustrate my own,” she explains. “So, I always recall that old desire as a source of inspiration.”
Within the LGBTQIA+ community, visibility is often a double-edged sword: It can be a tool of self-empowerment, as well as a threat to one’s safety. The radical act of expressing one’s identity, despite rejection, political pushback, and the risk of violence, is a triumph of self-actualization in the face of public scrutiny.
The UK film industry rarely commissions Black stories because they do not believe that our stories have an audience, and I find that astonishing. Black people are the drivers of culture, and we deserve to be represented. The only stories they seem to commission are the ones about gang violence to further perpetuate the falsehood that is Black on Black crime.
It is crucial that we explore alternative narratives to represent the multitude of nuanced Black experiences in our society. Being a womxn is one thing, being Black and British is another. My queerness adds another dimension to my identity. I am not Black before I am queer, I am not queer before I am Black, I am a queer Black British womxn.
This is a list capped at 100 films threading a counter history to cinema. This is not a “ra-ra girl power” collection, or even a list of women’s influences on a cinematic canon, but a collection of cinema that is unique in its willingness to show and to radicalize the female experience. Early films on here that may be less overt in their feminist messaging are included either because they show women’s place in revolutionary causes, are a first to depict an experience, or have been key in the discussion surrounding this alternate text.
All films are briefly annotated explaining why they’re here. Discussion is welcome, but please understand that this is made with an awareness of an intrinsically misogynist studio system, a desire for avant-garde and worldwide productions. Therefore, this will not be including the newest wide-release intended to pander to “women’s issues”.
A big shout out to the people at Queercircle as they achieved charity status.
Since 2016, QUEERCIRCLE has hosted exploratory workshops and events with artists, curators, writers and community organisers to develop a programme that is befitting to the needs and aspirations of the LGBTQ+ community.
The organisation champions the art and work of LGBTQ+ creatives and provides services and resources. It’s the kind of space LGBTQ+ communities need right now and in the future—a place to express oneself in the most creatively human way possible.
In case you missed it, Simon Doonan wrote a biography on Keith Haring which came out in February. It’s part of a series of pocket-sized biographies about great artists called Lives of the Artists and examines Haring’s inspiring life and work during the 1980s:
Revolutionary and renegade, Keith Haring was an artist for the people, creating an instantly recognisable repertoire of symbols – barking dogs, space-ships, crawling babies, clambering faceless people – which became synonymous with the volatile culture of 1980s. Like a careening, preening pinball, Keith Haring playfully slammed into all aspects of this decade – hip-hop, new-wave, graffiti, funk, art, style, gay culture – and brought them together.
According to a 1983 People magazine article, Smith’s brand employed 85 people and shipped its men’s and women’s lines—WilliWear is credited as the first brand to encompass both under one label—to more than 1,000 department stores nationwide. A year later, the company was grossing some $25 million annually (over $55 million when adjusted to today’s figures) and embarked on the first artistic collaboration of its kind with the likes of Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger and Keith Haring creating widely accessible designs. And yet for many who weren’t alive at the time of Smith’s massive success, his name was a mystery before 2020.
Kennedi Carter is an African-American photographer from North Carolina who specialises in photography and creative direction of Black subjects.
Her work highlights the aesthetics & sociopolitical aspects of Blackness as well as the overlooked beauties of the Black experience: skin, texture, trauma, peace, love and community. Her work aims to reinvent notions of creativity and confidence in the realm of Blackness.
Drawn from her series “East Durham Love” (2019), the works on view at Rosegallery feature images of Black love that Carter shot as her own relationship underwent a significant transition. “I wouldn’t necessarily call it an ending; it was just the reforming of a relationship,” she said. “It was the first time I had truly experienced love. And I think part of the project was trying to unpack what [it] meant to me as well as what I’d like to think it meant for them.”
Carter’s series contrasts the oversaturation of Black trauma we’ve seen in the press this year and, in her words, “manifested the type of love” she thought she deserved. “There was this sense of longing and truly experiencing what it means to miss someone.”
Mark Bradford was born in Los Angeles on 20th November 1961. He’s best known for combining paint and paper collage to create his work, as well as using the themes of masculinity and gender.
End papers, small rectangular sheets of translucent paper that protect hair during the perm process, are the basis of Los Angeles–based painter Mark Bradford’s early artworks. While working in his mother’s beauty salon, Bradford began integrating the papers into abstract paintings, creating a layered scrim through which the paint emerges. The artist, guided by an interest in common materials, has incorporated items from around Los Angeles—including fragments of posters, broadsides, and billboards—to tackle issues of civil unrest.
Bradford on his use of paper and how that evolved:
I hadn’t given much thought to the materiality of the end papers until I started experimenting with other types of paper. End papers are similar to tissue paper, and are very absorbent and translucent. When I was painting, it was a lot easier to achieve layers of color due to those qualities of the end papers. As I started adding more opaque materials, like billboard and poster paper, the paintings looked flat. That’s when I began dunking paper in water. I thought maybe if the pulp disintegrated, a little bit of light could pass through. This addition really shifted my practice. To this very day, I still use water because it’s the only thing that pulls the paper apart and makes it flow like paint.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I had a lot of triggers because in some ways it reminded me of the AIDS epidemic. It’s been great to see that so many have mobilized in this moment for positive change and have found creative and interesting ways to make their voices heard. I’ve learned to be kind of fluid and keep creating work. I like to say that I’m not on Pacific Standard Time, but rather on Pandemic Standard Time—and I chuckle when people send me calendar invites for upcoming events.
Back in 2013, African American artist Kehinde Wiley presented his first ever UK solo exhibition, entitled “The World Stage: Jamaica”. Stephen Friedman Gallery hosted the exhibition with Frieze London and it featured Jamaican men and women emulating poses from 17th and 18th Century British portraits. The concept demonstrated the relationship between Jamaica’s citizens and the island’s former colonialists with Wiley’s trademark “naturalistic” style.
Wiley embellishes his paintings with intricate, ornate backgrounds that contradict the sombre posturing of the subjects and allude to the bold styles of urban fashion. Pieces of these symbolic patterns overlay and entwine the figure, both harmoniously fusing and creating opposition between the two contrasting elements that form the work. In previous series, this decoration has been inspired by a fusion of period styles, ranging from Islamic architecture to Dutch wax printed textile and French Rococo design. In this new body of work, lavish patterning informed by the British textile designer William Morris surrounds the figures.
Kehinde Wiley was born in 1977 in Los Angeles to a Nigerian father and an African American mother. His mother supported his art and, after enrolling in after-school art classes, he went to art school in Saint Petersburg, Russia, at the age of 12.
After spending time with his father in Nigeria, he returned to the US and earned his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and his MFA from Yale University, School of Art. He has since presented 13 solo exhibitions, won countless awards, and worked with the likes of Puma and Givenchy.
In an accompanying video, Wiley discusses his initial artistic inspirations and how traveling around the world opened his outlook. For the Jamaica exhibition, he explored British art museums for inspiration and commented on portraiture in British colonial history:
“[…] in particular, I saw the works that had a direct relationship to the Caribbean. I love the history of art, I love looking at the beautiful images but I also recognise that there is something quite sinister about their past. High portrait making points back to the history of art and in that history, art has always been in a cosy relationship with the state and with the church.”
Stream the 7-minute video below. And Happy Independence Day, Jamaica!
Founded by Mia Coleman, a Black illustrator and designer, Rememory brings together the incredible work of Black women and non-binary people of the African Diaspora. The burgeoning directory showcases their narratives and experiences through an array of disciplines including:
Mia explains that Rememory is for both creatives to “help people boost visibility for black women” and for employers to “consider hiring women into promotions above their current role” and place them in spaces often taken up by men.
Rememory is directory and blog spot of black creatives with beginner to expert experience in various creative roles. This platform aims to help people boost visibility for black women breaking into the creative industry while providing them with insight on creative paths on our #ArtCrush monthly interviews.
The term “rememory” was coined by Toni Morrison in her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Beloved. It described a recollection of a forgotten moment by the book’s main character, Sethe, and was chosen by the directory’s founder as a homage to Morrison’s lifelong work in “centering black women and their narratives”.
How to join
You can join Rememory by heading over to the Join Us page and filling out your details. You can select up to 4 professions from a choice of 18 or include any unnamed occupations you may hold.
Rememory is packed full of incredible women and non-binary people with abundances of talent.
How to get in touch
Here are some links to follow Rememory on social media and contact Mia:
Email: info[at]miacoleman.co (replace the [at] for an @)
Today’s interviewee is the wonderful Sareta Fontaine. She is a writer and content creator with a creative flair most of us can only dream of having. It was an honour and a pleasure to have Sareta participate so enjoy the interview!
What is your favourite city in the world?
My favourite city in the world is currently Amsterdam. It’s only a 50-minute flight (I hate flying), and everyone is super friendly, super chilled and open-minded. I’d look into having an apartment there if I could. I’d have a little apartment next to the canal, with window boxes full of beautiful flowers. I’d go on weekends with my laptop and write all day like Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and The City)…dreamy!
What’s the most unusual item you take everywhere you go?
Probably crumbs. The bottom of my bag is always covered in crumbs from snacks I’ve had ready for my kids. No matter what I do, crumbs will be there.
Why do you do what you do?
I love to create art, and I love to make people laugh. Whether it’s a video or photography, or something I’ve made with my hands, I love creating! I guess I always enjoyed making things as a child, so a lot of my toys I created myself. I’d make trains and houses out of shoeboxes and mini characters out of Fimo oven-bake clay, and play with those for hours. I suppose I never really grew out of it. I enjoy making things and seeing the finished product.
When was the last time you told someone you loved them?
Five minutes ago, lol! I just said I love you and goodnight to my boys.
Where do you go to relax?
What is relax please? I don’t even know anymore! I’d probably have a glass of wine and chill on my sofa, along with disco lights and incense.
69, 280, or 420?
420 for sure. But what does 280 stand for? I’m out of the loop and feel old now.
How do you say goodbye in your culture?
See you later. Which has always confused me because “later” may mean later on in the day… or week, right? But yeah, my family have always said: “See you later” in a London accent, of course.