count   info articles artists


Valerie Soe

Stills from
History & Memory: for Akikoand
Akiko and Takashige(1991)
by Rea Tajiri

Most notable in these three ruminations is the wary eye cast on the mixed blessings of multiculturalism – Art Jones observes the m.c. trend as having "open(ed) the door just enough to let a few of us art-school educated exotics squeeze through," while Tony Cokes warns us to "retain an awareness of the smallness of the opening that makes your speech possible." This judicious regard for the recent advancement of colored people in the art scene is in marked contrast to the ease with which past acclaimed visionaries gained entrance to the pantheon of museum and gallery, reflecting the cautious savvy of outsiders already burned by the false promises of the dominant culture. There's a clear recognition of the necessity to retain control over our own imagemaking, in all senses of the word, lest that control slip away and leave us powerless and vulnerable. Rea Tajiri states, "It is up to us to use this whole thing to our advantage. It allows us to get the work made...this has made some things stronger and clearer for us."

Artists of color are at this moment in the odd position of actually having some influence over our own destiny – for once the art world is listening, even if it is for all of the calculated reasons we might suspect. There are two immediate dangers in this situation. The first is the risk of complacency, of beginning to feel at ease with our momentary popularity. The art world is fickle enough to begin with when dealing with members of its own club, so don't expect much loyalty once the m.c. fad is supplanted by next year's model.

The second and more insidious threat is one that Rea mentions, the discernable tension between white artists and artists of color, or what is beginning to be framed as "us" and "them." The current political regime heartily encourages this type of infighting, throwing in neo-conservative wolves in feminist's clothing (see Camille Paglia) to further confuse the issue.

In the right wing's doublespeak parlance, affirmative action has become "quotas," cultural diversity is now tarred as "political correctness," and rectifying the gross imbalances of power and visibility in our culture and society has become favoritism. At least one male white colleague has commented to me that his opportunities for career advancement have been squeezed by the hiring of people of color. What this colleague doesn't realize is that it isn't us uppity pocs* that are cutting him out, it's the top 1% corporate class that doubled its gross income in the past ten years without returning a comparable amount of capital into the economy. So much for the trickle-down theory.

If anything is evident, it's that we are only grudgingly granted visibility and self-articulation, and to expect such graciousness to continue without constant pressure and vigilance is naive. Empowerment only comes out of the barrel of a gun, and artists of color are rightfully looking straight in the mouth of the deceptive gift horse of multiculturalism.

Valerie Soe

October 1991

San Francisco

*thanks to Coco Fusco