The Wide World of Art

By Ali, Abdul | The Crisis, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

The Wide World of Art


Ali, Abdul, The Crisis


BLACK ARTISTS ARE ABANDONING THE TRADITIONAL ART ESTABLISHMENT IN SEARCH OF ARTISTIC "FREEDOM."

IN AUGUST, 2001, KEITH OBADIKE, A MULTIMEDIA artist, auctioned his Blackness on eBay for $10. He even included a description detailing the benefits and warnings of his "product":

This Blackness may be used for creating Black art; The Seller does not recommend that this Blackness be used during legal proceedings of any sort; This Blackness may be used for dating a Black person without fear of public scrutiny; The Seller does not recommend that this Blackness be used in the process of making or selling 'serious' art; This Blackness may be used for instilling fear; The Seller does not recommend that this Blackness be used in Hollywood.

This online performance art did what it set out to do - ruffle feathers and provoke conversation in the bourgeoning Web community of artists and pundits. Though Obadike's performance art recalls the race-baiting humor of a Dave drappelle, its sheer audaciousness revealed a futurist sensibility by using a new medium to ask an old question while offering a subtle form of subversion.

"Blackness for Sale" as political art states the obvious: Black cultural production continues to be a casualty of capitalism. But in an under-the-radar way, "Blackness for Sale" exploits the Web and suggests a way for Black people to negotiate the terms of our value so we can benefit from our own cultural expression. It revises traditional market structure, in which "Blackness" as a commodity usually benefits a small group of mostly White men that constitute the corporate elite.

When asked about the attraction of the Web as a viable space to produce his art, Obadike says, "the Web seemed like a natural place to combine art forms. It was a place where people could experience sound, text and image all at once or separately. It was also a way to distribute work to a large national and international audience."

Increasingly, Black artists are doing what Obadike did: abandoning the traditional art establishment (and its often narrow formulations of what constitutes good art) for the Web, where they don't have to worry about setting up an art opening, film screening or listening party. All that's required in this brave new media world is a computer and a wireless connection - or so it seems.

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay, who made history last February as the first Black woman to win the Best Director prize at the Sundance Film Festival, echoed those sentiments. Writing in the Winter 2012 issue of the Crisis, she noted, "Technology levels the playing field I can get a good camera in 24 hours and edit on my laptop if necessary."

The technological revolution has not only prompted changes in how art is made; it has also transformed the primary ways in which it is received. For example, according to a recent Nielsen study, Americans now spend more time surfing the Internet than watching television. Thanks to social media giants like Facebook, connecting people across the planet to have a conversation about new art can happen in a few mouse clicks across time zones and involve potentially millions of people within minutes.

Urban Blacks and Latinos between the ages 18 and 29 have been at the forefront of this change. According to a recent Pew study, they use Twitter significantly more than their suburban, White, older counterparts. Black artists' increased activity on the Web corresponds with that trend.

"I think artists in my small corner of the art world are much more concerned with making projects the can move across zones and platforms and in creating what we might call trans-media projects," Obadike told the Crisis via email.

NO GATEKEEPERS

Frustrated with the narrow range of Black-themed television programming, Issa Rae, a filmmaker and Stanford University graduate, elected to produce, direct and star in her own madefor-the-Web sitcom, Mis-Adventures of an Awkward Black Girl. …

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