I'm trying to write
about my take on the relationship between social activism
and video-making, and I realize that what's most important
is looking at the context in which any possible mono- or dialogue
can occur. I may not have again the opportunity to be heard/read
by fellow workers in the art industry, so I am anxious to
make the most of it. In speaking to artists of color, I've
found that there often exists a sense of limited opportunities
for "speech." "Speech" enables artists of color to comprehend
their individual beliefs about cultural practice and social/moral
commitments in a way that is very different from that of other
artists, who may be more confident that their speech is an
art-world given right and not simply a privilege that can
In keeping with
the western dualistic model of ordering reality, the art world
finds it helpful to divide video (and every other "type")
artists into two distinct categories: political artists
whose work involves themes which more or less address the
general subject of power, usually in a manner that makes visible
the power relations which mainstream art culture takes for
granted or obscures; and artists, who of course need no definition.
Political or Artist, you can be sure power determines what
work and who's work will be shown, where in what show, at
what time, on what channel.
If I accept my
put-upon political-artist American-African status, my acquiescence
only validates the historically contemporary art industry
practice of aesthetic disqualification: "Well, it's very raw,
sort of faux-naive, rough edges but with an art-school pedigree.
Let's put it in our 'Silenced Voices from the Outside Margins'
show." In mind/body split terms, my end definitely aint up.
Accepting the definition of this particular otherness fuels
the market, providing a fix for the conventions of the white
avant-garde (R.I.P.) . Viva multiculturalism!
A scenario: the
conveyors of art world/industry-sanctioned speech open the
door just enough to let a few of us art-school educated exotics
squeeze through. Between sampling the latest Thai or Ethiopian
cuisine, they study and theorize about the new style of "opposition"
and "identity" (your existence as a person of color equals
your oppositional stance). When they figure they understand
the work (no easy feat, since your work isn't universal),
they're much relieved to realize that you (we) all aren't
some monolithic movement pushing a (gasp!) social agenda disguised
as Art. Now they're free to enjoy the spectacle of one "other"
person competing with every "other" person for the (diverse)
scraps of success that comes with being the videother of the
moment. Welcome to the Terrordome.
I'm too through
with talking about otherness while sameness is assumed. What
are the politics, identities and representations of whiteness?
is the latest spin on the same old history if it ignores the
realities of video/art/activist classism and racism. The
only thing to talk about at this point is who will give
up some of the power to say yes or no, who will gain that
power, and who would be listening (watching) if speech was
more than a privilege.
Response to Rea
Rea speaks eloquently
about the vital need to contextualize ourselves as mediamakers
of color, individually as well as collectively. The precarious
position we may find ourselves in by engaging in "public"
dialogue can help to produce and make necessary the "ongoing
paranoia" that seems to characterize so much of the dealings
of artists (and other folks) of color with art world institutions.
The reality of being a dash of color in a multicultural stew
based on traditional recipes for exclusion/ghettoization/exoticization/"appropriation"
can be turned to a progressive advantage if it helps to open
spaces that are closed to most, but ways to achieve substantive
self-determination within the art industry must be thought
about. Am I wrong, or are we saying that we should keep pushing
even as we create new ways of working and thinking about work
that validates our experiences?
For myself, I feel
that so much of the pushing is part of the day-to-day struggle
against marginality, while the latter represents the only
hope for non-paternalistic relations between those who own
or claim the space for speech (and many other things) and
those spaces. Traditional resources are shrinking, and loss
of privilege and a frustrated sense of entitlement definitely
has many videomakers and other artists going for the scapegoat/backlash
option, like many other Americans these days, with "multicultural"
artists cast as the art-world's stigmatized quota cases. Now,
who will surrender the privilege of not engaging in
dialogue to discuss these "white" issues? Can we talk?