EDITOR’S LETTER: PUNK IN THE PLACE // THE NEW BLACK RENAISSANCE
October 1, 2019
“The Black artist is dangerous. Black art controls the ‘Negro’s’ reality, negates negative influences, and creates positive images.” — Sonia Sanchez
There is a revolution taking place in the art world. Black presence, existence, and resistance is the theme of the day. Using creativity and fearlessness as their weapons of choice, Black radical artists are making bold statements about gender identity, racial politics, and privilege of power through their work. These visionaries are literally recasting the image of the Black body and infiltrating historically white spaces and institutions to defiantly exclaim: We are here!
The NewOnes, will free Us!
The Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue in New York City is the largest museum in the United States, housing over two million works of art. History was made at this cultural institution on September 9, 2019, when Kenyan-American artist Wangechi Mutu presented four bronze statues entitled The NewOnes, will free Us! Yes, four Black women now guard the Beaux-Arts building built in 1874 on what is now known as Manhattan’s tony Museum Mile. They are adorned with mirrors refecting to the world a new reality.
According to The Met, “the artist has reimagined a motif common to the history of both Western and African art: the caryatid, a sculpted figure, almost always female, meant to serve as a means of either structural or metaphorical support.”
Wangechi Mutu often incorporates African art, tradition, and mythology in her work through a feminist gaze. These four statues are no exception. She deconstructed the ideals of white privilege, power, and patriarchy. These warrior goddesses are also an audacious recognition of the role of Black women historically and globally, as caretakers, martyrs, and life forces. They signify the African Diaspora and signal a Black future.
“Mutu’s embellishments take a great deal of inspiration from customs practiced by specific groups of high-ranking African women. The horizontal and vertical coils that sheathe the figures’ bodies, functioning as garment and armor all in one, reference beaded bodices and circular necklaces, while the polished discs set into different parts of the sculptures’ heads allude to lip plates,” the Met explains. “Belonging to no one time or place, Mutu’s hybrid figures are invariably stately, resilient, and self-possessed.” Indeed.
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Rumors of War
What is more gangster than erecting a 27-foot-tall bronze sculpture of a Black man with dreads — wearing a hoodie and ripped jeans, and riding on horseback atop a 16-foot wide granite base — in the middle of New York’s Times Square (where some 330,000 people traverse daily), and titling it Rumors of War? The statue, by the renowned artist Kehinde Wiley who is best known for his stunning portrait of President Barack Obama, was inspired by the receiving line of equestrian Confederate generals that adorns Richmond, VA’s controversial Monument Avenue. Rumors will live in Times Square until December before moving to Richmond’s newly christened Arthur Ashe Boulevard, named after the Black hometown tennis legend and meant to undercut the city’s history as The White House of Confederacy.
This is Wiley’s first public work and he used the moment to reframe the narrative of Confederate monuments, privileges of power, and white supremacy in America with a decidedly decolonized point of view. “Today, we say yes to something that looks like us,” Kehinde told The New York Times on September 27, 2019, at the unveiling. “We say yes to inclusivity. We say yes to broader notions of what it means to be an American.”
A Black woman’s presence speaks volumes — there is a profound sense of agency in her very being. There is a feeling of authority, strength, courage, resilience, and discernment that can make you freeze in your tracks — she can also connote empathy, vulnerability, and love at the same time. All of those emotions emerge on 10th Avenue near 30th Street at the mouth of the newly developed Hudson Yards in Manhattan.
A 16-foot bronze bust of a beautiful, imposing Black goddess created by Simone Leigh towers over the street on the Highline some 30 more feet in the air. In the metropolis’ new industrial and high-end luxury shopping district, you must pass the gates and gaze of this woman, acutely aware of the undeniable Black woman magic electricity that is currently being amplified globally — in Hollywood, media, politics, activism, literature, and, of course, in the art world.
This month AFROPUNK salutes visual artists who are pushing back against systems, misogyny, xenophobia, and racism. These artists are unapologetically bringing Blackness to the frontlines, reimagining a world where we are seen, larger than life and liberated. We are also looking at other mediums, digital art, animation, comix and cosplay — platforms where our creative spirits soar, our authentic narratives are actualized, and our dreams realized. Here’s to a bold, brilliant, Black future in living color and living the fuck out loud!