FEATURE: The Paper Bag Series with Fine Artist Beth Consetta Rubel
By Eye Candy
July 14, 2014
Fine artist Beth Consetta Rubel paints her way into the conversation of race relations that she has witnessed in her small Texas town and across this country. Rubel uses chalk pastels, acrylic, gouache, fabric, and discovered objects to explore the topics of stereotypes, cultural identity, sexuality, politics, Deep South mentality, and media’s role in ignoring all of thee above.
While growing up as a biracial woman of color in Texas (where the Confederate flag still waves high in many parts of the state), Rubel has seen her fair share of injustice and discrimination firsthand. She recalls times when professors at the University of Texas (where she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting) considered her “not Black enough” to discuss the topics she was creating in her pieces. Instead of her art being the topic of discussion, it seemed to always come down to her personal background and identity. Being biracial, Black-identified, and Queer, Rubel has much to say about society’s views of these minority groups that are easily swept under the rug in the eyes of mainstream media.
Words by CookTP, AFROPUNK Contributor *
Instead of letting her conservative, southern town discourage her, Rubel chose to charge her artistry with political and racial ideologies to “explore themes of Deep South mentality, African cultural diaspora, and the intersection of race and pop culture”. In her artist statement she explains, “The intersection of race and pop culture are fundamental components that invigorate my paintings. The process of rummaging thrift stores to find antique photos, yellow and curling at the edges, vintage postcards, and cast iron objects with a history are a bases for my work.” She strives to answer the question “Is racism permanently embedded in our culture, or is it a learned behavior that is exploited in media and fed to the masses?”
She attempts to answer this question with her latest collection titled “The Paper Bag Series” based off of “The Paper Bag Test”. With this collection, Rubel is taking a historical and saddening part of American Black history and bringing it full circle to current events in the Black community.
For those who haven’t heard of this infamous ritual, here’s a Sparknotes version. “The Paper Bag Test” was a way to determine if a person’s skin color was light enough or “too Black” to gain entry into social groups, events, venues, etc. A brown paper bag would be held up to a person’s face and if they were as light or lighter than the bag, they were allowed entry. If not, they were denied. This act began somewhere between 1900 and 1950 amongst Black fraternities and sororities. Organizations such as these that sought to be the “Black elite” created a literal color line in the Black community. This line, even in 2014, is still alive and strong. Rubel has taken the concept and given it an artistic twist that commands attention and brings a 21st century voice to colorism, an issue that has survived over 100 years. With this series, she paints Black Americans with various skin tones, well known and otherwise, onto brown paper bags. Viewers can ask the question of who would have passed this insensitive test by simply looking at the person’s shade against the brown bag. Some of the people Rubel has painted are: President Barack Obama, Academy Award-winning actress Hattie McDaniel (best known for her role as Mammy in the 1939 film Gone with The Wind), Christopher Reid A.K.A. “Kid” from Hip-Hop rap duo Kid ‘n’ Play, members of the Houston-based Punk Rock group BLXPLTN, and many more.
Rubel also produces paintings depicting images that demand viewers to really dissect the role of Black Americans in history to the present day. Rubel’s images of minstrel shows, Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, and “Saint Obama” gives her viewers unwarranted permission to examine racism and identification in the Black community. With artists like Beth Consetta Rubel in the art world, Black Americans and other minority groups will be able to see their role in the agenda of mainstream media in a more innovative manner. She’s bridging the gap between the past and present with an artistic hand and analytical mind, hopefully letting the answer to her question out of the bag.
Beth Consetta Rubel’s profile on afropunk.com: https://testafropunk.wpengine.com/profile/BethConsettaRubel. Rubel’s work can also be found on her website, www.bethconsettarubel.com, and Facebook page, www.facebook.com/consettarubelartist.
* CookTP’s blog: TheCookChronicles.wordpress.com; Twitter: @LevelupChefmode ; IG: @Levelup_Chefmode