How Black Female Artists Are Reclaiming Their Self-Worth

Beyond the Black Community: How Black Female Artists Are Reclaiming Their Self-Worth

Existing in three marginalized groups, the message of the black female artist is one that breaks the systematic reigns of years of oppression. The common image of the “lazy artist” has been broken down by the hard work, dedication, and passion that black females have applied toward this field of creativity. I decided to explore the ways that black female artists were portrayed using 3 primary sources of text/video that examine the work of these women and how they fall in with modern day societal expectations. Through these examinations, it is evident that black female artists are portrayed as headstrong, hardworking, and dedicated individuals who embrace the identifiers that were once used to oppress them. While looking at these sources I kept in mind a few questions: Is there any way to accurately represent this identity in the media? How do these representations contrast with my original assumptions about my identity?

To Be Black, Female and Fed Up with the Mainstream

Not to be confused with the trope of the “Angry Black Woman” that is ever-so-common in today’s media, being a black woman and being fed up with the media means fighting past the stigmatized categories that people have constrained us in.  Black women have grown increasingly tired with the common misconception that they are always “angry.” Through examining black female artists throughout a variety of fields from both past and present it is clear that black women are leaders in pioneering for social change. This first article, written by Holland Cotter and published for the New York Times examines what it means to be a black female through the world of art. Specifically, this article was written in examination of the “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85” exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. This article showcases the determination and passion behind the women of the Black Arts Movement that started in 60’s whose ideals are carried throughout the modern age. ‘Black Radical Women’ are seen as driven, artists who are not tied down by what the system says they can and cannot do.

(Article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/20/arts/design/review-we-wanted-a-revolution-black-radical-women-brooklyn-museum.html?_r=0 )

Putting this feeling into a modern day example, I’m sure many of you are familiar with Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’ album.

Upon reviewing clips from the videos of this album, it is clear that she is trying to communicate a visual story of the essence of black womanhood through using issues that pertain especially to the modern black woman. While many media outlets review Beyonce’s work as “defiant” “brave” and “powerful” (highsnobiety.com), other sources call it extremely “radical” and  “anti-feminist.” What Cotter’s article and the media’s perception of Beyonce’s album share is the common desire of the artist(s) to seek triumph over the identifiers that once constrained the black female.

While I do not know for fact if there is any way to accurately represent the black female artist in the media, I can surely tell you that representing this identity in a way that exemplifies power, hard work, and a down-to-business attitude is definitely a step in the right direction.

Black Women as Pioneers for Social Change

The second source that I examined was TED Talk held in Harlem, by Thelma Golden who is the curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem. It was nice to view a source that was presented from the perspective of another black female artist. Its purpose is to educate her audience to the ways that art acts as a “catalyst of transformation” for a community. (TED Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow0bhKl1b04 )

Another detail to note, which primarily became the subject of her talk, was the difference between ‘of’ and ‘in’ within the context of speaking about The Studio Museum in (not of) Harlem. She brings this up for the purpose of defining the spirit of the black artists who the museum represents and also to uphold a certain level of correct representation toward her title. She breaks down in word-by-word format the formal title and what it is meant to represent. She explains what the subliminal exchange of the two words ‘in’ and ‘of’ do to the formal meaning of the title and how, by making a conscious effort to correct this behavior, not only are people accrediting the correct name to the building, rather they are fostering the continuation of the ideology behind the museum itself.

I thought this source was very interesting because it notes the line of respect that should be acknowledged when representing black artists. The way that she speaks of black art, as a movement with such admiration and affection in her voice, showcases her profound feelings toward the subject. One of the most interesting details was the separation of ‘in’ and ‘of.’ At first Golden presented it as a mere way that her title as art curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem was misrepresented, however by the end of the video she turns the thought into two separate entities that have different meanings. It reveals how much she cares about the image that her work is representing. I also found the way that she presented the information to be very direct because it was able to tie in the major themes of community, innovation, and representation.

Golden’s presentation demonstrates the same hard work and dedication that black female artists have applied to the way their title is viewed throughout our culture. As another secondary source I examined the Twitter hashtag ‘#blackgirlmagic’ and its effects of representation within culture. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many positive movements that perpetuated the progressive ideology of being more vocal about positive accomplishments of the black community, specifically of black girls in order to lead social change. While this subject represents any and all accomplishments of black women and girls I’ve taken a few examples of #blackgirlmagic that resonate specifically with the art community:

 

How Black Females Past and Present Have Shaped the Art World

“Set Your Blackness Free” is an article written by La Donna L. Forsgren that analyzes Barbara Ann Teer’s role as a black female artist and how she played that role in the Black Arts Movement. Barbara Ann Teer was a writer, actress, producer and the founder of Harlem’s National Black Theater. The article summarizes how Teer’s involvement within the community rejected the effects of racism at the time and instead promoted the identity of the black intellectual through art. Though Teer was a woman who accomplished many things, the article also talks about critical backlash she received throughout history. “Gross generalizations of the Black Arts Movement as homophobic and sexist have contributed to the dismissal of many female artists who were, in fact, vital to the success of the movement.” This article relates to my own ideas of showing black female artists as pioneers of community. The author of this article examines the work of Teer through a positive light that showcases the determination of her cause.

“This Necessary New Exhibition Highlights the Activism of Black Female Artists” is another article written by Jasmin Hernandez who talks about the necessity of representation of black women artists in our culture and uses an exhibit at the Brooklyn arts museum as an example of this representation. Aside from being referred to as “commitment to art, feminism, and social justice,” ‘We Wanted a Revolution’ is an exhibit that showcased various mediums of art, film, literature, and photography from more than 40 artists. Co curated by Rujeko Hockley, who is being interviewed for this article, both the author and Hockely have very relevant opinions about the representation of artwork by artists of a variety of classes and color. This article quotes, “We Wanted a Revolution shines a light on the artist-activists of color working outside of the dominant white, middle-class feminist narrative. It is the first major museum exhibition to focus specifically on black female artists from that era.”

This source, again, relates to my own ideas about this subject because it acknowledges the social divide that is a common occurrence within the art world, yet simultaneously perpetuates the relevance that art and activism hold within a cultural community. It is great that the article includes an interview with the co-curator because it discusses the intended purpose for what this show hopes to accomplish from a first-hand perspective. The article is very positive, overall and brings a good message to this topic about inclusiveness and social change.

Black Females and Their Lasting Effects on Art culture

In conclusion, it is evident that the work of black female artists is prevalent within our community. Through the platform of art, black females have paved the way to several ideas conversations that require our society, specifically our media, to look at how marginalized groups are being represented. Before reviewing these sources, I had expected to see a lot of negativity surrounding black women in artistic fields. Relating it to my own upbringing as a creative black female, the research was vastly different than what I had expected. I was more than happy to see black women being viewed in a positive light, for the most part. Several of the articles reviewed this identity as a determined group of individuals who advocate for social awareness and change. While I now know that there is no “one size fits all” method when it comes to representation in the media, it is truly a joy to see how black women are advocating for uplifting each other as well as the community.

“Being a part of this reemergence of a movement both pro-diversity and pro-woman is the best part of being a Black girl. It’s more than, “I stand for this because I should.” I stand for this because this is part of who I am as a human being.” –Yara Shahidi

 

Learning Moments

  • Analyzing media sources was a huge factor in learning how to understand my artifacts and discovering the message behind what they were trying to communicate. I was able to take this learned information and apply it to choose the ways in which I selected my primary and secondary sources.
  • Another important Learning moment was doing the Research Analysis worksheet. Creating questions to explore in my paper helped me with the process of transitioning from my sources, to the ways that my sources related with my own thoughts/beliefs about my identity.

Works Cited

This Necessary New Exhibition Highlights the Activism of Black Female Artists, Jasmin Hernandez, Elle “culture” http://www.elle.com/culture/art-design/news/a45003/we-wanted-a-revolution-brooklyn-museum/

La Donna L. Forsgren, “Set Your Blackness Free” Barbara Ann Teer’s Art and Activism during the Black Arts Movement, Project Muse, https://muse-jhu-edu.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/article/576874

THELMA GOLDEN | TEDxHarlem, “Innovation Through Art – The Preposition Problematic”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow0bhKl1b04

To Be Black, Female and Fed Up with the Mainstream, by Holland Cotter, published for the New York Times

URL: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/20/arts/design/review-we-wanted-a-revolution-black-radical-women-brooklyn-museum.html?_r=0

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