the avant-garde art industry has a racist fetishization problem

July 24, 2017
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By jesse chase, AFROPUNK Contributor

The industry of cultural appropriation has existed for millennia, since one ancient religion syncretically appropriated the stories of another religion to suit their culture. It’s also been used as a form of mockery, as in the case of blackface. Today, blackface is highly frowned upon and stupid college parties often get called out for throwing blackface parties. It could be considered what Frantz Fanon and Africana scholar Lewis Gordon calls a fetishization.

In an age where civil rights has supposedly advanced for everyone and liberal equality gives the green light for the illusion of license to moral high-ground, the industry of cultural appropriation still exists. In a niche like those who claim stake of the “avant garde,” there are some artists, intellectuals and magazines that thrive making their living and building social capital through appropriation.

The white liberal left wing class of the “avant garde” uses the racial supervenience (when there exists a hierarchy of properties which are made by the lower level properties, but the upper level controls the definition of the lower level––basically what white supremacy does) of cultural appropriation to it’s limit, to as far as they can get away with or as much as they feel they are somehow entitled to appropriate.

Exhibit A: Australian born, Prague based internationalist Louis Armand’s recent essay, Reactionary Sentimentalism from 3AM magazine in France. The avant-garde Armand romanticizes the notion of art movements with titles like “Reactionary Sentimentalism” that really just reflect his own reactionary sentimentalism to the people, places and things he fetishizes––like Basquiat, the NYC 80’s punk scene, the NYC LGBT scene, and gentrification.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1979, by Robert Carrithers – from “Reactionary Sentimentalism”

Westside Fuck Piers, New York, 1981, by Miron Zownir. – from “Reactionary Sentimentalism”

Exibit B: The same goes for Radical Philosophy Magazine (who Lewis Gordon personally critisized as guilty of left-wing class racial supervenience) who publishes ridiculous articles about Basquiat with titles like “The Irony of Anatomy: Basquiat’s Poetics of Black Positionality” by authors who write against white paternalism through white paternalism so they can go read it at some conference in Europe for a summer vacation. I am again pointing out the “irony” that these are straight white cis males defining what black positionality is without fair voicing or critique from black positionality.

The normalization of this appropriation practice is exemplified by exhibit C: Comparing conceptual poet and UPenn professor Kenneth Goldsmith’s “outlaw” status after his disgusting appropriation of Michael Brown’s autopsy as a poem with the hell that decolonization scholar George Ciccariello Maher has been going through since his tweet stating all he wanted for Christmas was white genocide in reference to the Haitian revolution.

Maher’s employer, Drexel University, is conducting an investigation against him while nobody really does anything to Goldsmith, or the feminist, lawyer, and conceptual poet Vanessa Place for that matter. Aside from idolizing Trumpism as the pinnacle of the avant-garde, Vanessa Place and Louis Armand are long-time friends and collaborators and write books together, like Pornoterrorism: Deaestheticizing Power. These artists all need to ironically (as the title of this book goes) have their own licensed power de-aestheticized.

Although there are arguments for the right treatment of cultural appropriation (like the few that emerged after Canadian literati magazine editors were blasted for trying to throw a cultural appropriation prize for writing) the fact is these fetishizations and appropriations about Basquiat, punks, LGBT, gentrification are all about the same thing––imperialism.

And so these acts are only normalizing the continuum of imperialism that their subjects have been victimized and oppressed by. The point with these appropriating artists, magazines and professors is that everything they say can and will be used against them. Even if they’re nice, unassuming white people (I think Armand is probably the nicest out of the people I’ve mentioned) they have to realize that if they aren’t doing anything to solve the issues their subjects face, or if they refuse to ignore the root cause of oppression then just don’t tackle it. It’s not entertaining and it’s not cutting edge.

Stop the fetishization, the romanticism, stop the supervenience, stop the appropriation industry, quit the i’m-so-brilliant-and-avant-garde-bullshit-humouring-this-is-leading-to-a-breakthrough cuz it’s not and it’s not going to take 100 years for people to realize this. You may think you are ignorant and free, racist and free, fearful and free but you can never be oppressive and free. To these artists I’ve mentioned and others who revel in the liberal freedom of speech front, I repeat, you can’t be oppressive and free.