Reading and Writing Art Criticism
Meta-paper April, 2011
Looking at Blackness with New Eyes
In 1995 feminist, author, racial theorist, professor and theorist *bell hooks interviewed the acclaimed artist Carrie Mae Weems for her published book, Art on My Mind: Visual Politics. In bell hooks’ interview with Carrie Mae Weems, a question is raised and continues to be raised throughout their discussion: Can black images be viewed transcendently, or is the viewer always to be caught in the blackness, the political, the ethnographic trope of class disparities; or can a narrative be extracted from black subjects that has nothing to do with societal situations, and solely conjure universal themes such as love, strength, vulnerability, isolation, hope, despair ,or commitment? Perhaps as much as this question gets answered, it is answered equally with an affirmative and a negative response. The two women attempt to answer these questions and throughout their conversation, neither are able to rest definitively that Blackness can be viewed universally without political implications and, perhaps, this is because race is a political construct within itself. Weems speaks of her irritation when she states, “It’s been absolutely impossible for the vast majority of critics, of white audiences, and even of black audiences to come to the work and not first and foremost fixate only on the blackness of the images. As soon as blackness becomes the all-important sign, audiences assume that the images are addressing victimization (hooks).”
Since we know that race is a socio-political construct, and are aware of how this construct has engaged and continues to engage with capitalism in the United States, the western world, and the global economy in general, it’s important not to only address art, but also imagery used in advertisements. Consider the well known iconography of the respected baby food brand Gerber, a white, wingless cherub like...
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