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.
*thanks to Coco