It is an on-going debate that just about every black artist grapples with. During the year, just like any other artist, you scramble for exhibition opportunities. You fill out your applications and hope that if anything, your work will be included into at least a group exhibit. A lot of the time, it can be pretty quiet with nothing coming down the pipe. That is until the magical month of February rolls around. Various art venues and institutions be it in the academic sphere or commercial, scour their communities for black artists so they may have their work exhibited in either group or solo shows thus, displaying their support and respect for the month designated for celebrating all things related to black people in our country’s history. This angers a lot of black artists. I’ve read several posts from individuals expressing that they would never show during Black History Month because of being largely ignored during the rest of the year. You see the the word tokenism come up and I completely understand the frustration. It is a double edged sword being a black artist. Sometimes your just being a black artist is going to help you get into shows or better your odds and it works the other way as well with being excluded. By the way, I want to state that I am talking about black artist who make good work. I have seen some exhibitions devoted to black artists and it was very clear that your being black was all that was needed to have your work included – oy! Anyway, I actively choose to not get so disheartened about this topic. I enjoy getting my work out into the public arena and if an organization asks if I would exhibit in their space during February – why not? In my career, I have participated in numerous all women artist shows and much like the month of February, there are plenty of women artists who would never show in all women exhibitions. I think that it was Ida Applebroog who said something to the effect of how she would never ghettoize herself that way. I think that if an opportunity arises that will allow for a community to see quality work by the black artists who reside within it then by all means share your work. You can only make that call for yourself, though. If you are firm in never showing your work in February as a political statement, more power to you. The subject can make you want to blow your head off just like the Yinke Shonibare piece.
This weekend I installed some work in the Omaha Downtown Public Library. The director of the space asked me if I would put up work during Black History Month. As much of a double-edged sword that subject is, I really like my friends at the library and they’ve always been supportive of my endeavors, so of course I’ll show. I decided to show an older work that I hadn’t felt had been properly displayed yet. The walls at the gallery are so big, that I hung my Black Catalogue series. The work is simple itself. I made 90 collages using Xeroxed images of the models in Anthropologie’s catalogues. I love that freakin’ store and I love looking through the catalogues that I get in the mail. I’ve kept a lot of them, so I decided to make some work the images. I silhouetted out the figures because I was interested in the gestures. Gestures of “beauty” It’s purely decorative and a lot of fun to make. I decided to display them in a row like a film strip. I think if not in a grid, this is a great way to see them. If anything else, I discovered that it is no easy feat hanging things in a straight line!