feature: faces – black beauty through black eyes – manny

November 1, 2016

This particular piece represents the burden society places upon young people of color (especially young men) to conceal any portions of themselves which may exhibit vulnerability. One such portion seems to be creativity outside of the musical genre. Even within it, we often find constrained and stereotypical categories which P.O.C.s are continually grouped in. We are taught that there are genres which are “for us” and there are genres which are very much “not for us”. This month’s painting is a metaphoric commentary on P.O.C. creativity. Just like expensive china it is a beautiful and yet delicate thing. Take care of it and it can be shared, passed around and admired. But also like china it can be fragile. It can shatter if not respected and handled properly. This proper handling is two-fold. It comes in the form of talent cultivation and adequate representation.

Take a moment to ask the question “why is it that we see so few ambassadors of color in the fine arts outside of music?”. There are certainly plenty of talented visual artists, dancers, and authors of color. However there is a great lack in representation within formal settings such as major galleries, theatrical companies and so on. This is no surprise to anyone who’s grown up curious, creative, and searching for role models who look like them. So when we see tinted skin in the spotlight it is refreshing because it is rare in proportion to the opportunities. Take for instance Misty Copeland. In all the years that classical dance has existed in our country, it is only last year that a black woman finally reached the role of Principal Dancer in ABT’s extensive 75 year history. I’m sure we can all agree that there have been many gifted dancers of color over the years. And yet Copeland’s milestone success comes on the heels of a history of under/non-representation within the classical arts. Her achievement is a hard-won and historic triumph and is partially due to people recognizing and encouraging her talent at a young age.

This brings us to the second area which needs addressing: Cultivation. In a society that will throw incredible hurdles at young creative P.O.C.s we must nurture any creative spark they possess. We must teach them to value their craft, their creativity, and their intellect from day one. When a child scribbles a simple drawing and brings it home celebrate their work, even if the only space you have to do so is on the fridge. That child could very well be the next Basquiat, Kara Walker, or Kehinde Wiley. Above all, teach them that being a “person of color” and being an “artist” are two terms which are perfectly suited side-by-side.

By Julia Douglas, AFROPUNK Contributor

Oil on Canvas