Saturday, December 31, 2016

Black Portraiture [s] III Conference

The official booklet of "Black Portraiture [s] III: Reinventions: Strains of Histories and Cultures" contained proposal outlines of panelists and participant biographies. Artist Kudzanai Chiurai's "Genesis XI" has the cover.
Last month, something monumental happened-- life changing to be exact. Attending Black Portraiture[s] was definitely one of the most incredible experiences of the year.
For three marvelous days, a thundering triumphant intellectually rousing echo loud and proud in varied areas of Turbine Hall with profound black visual artists such as Hank Willis Thomas, Wangechi Mutu, Zanele Muholi, Sanford Biggers, Rashaad Newsome, and more in attendance. The Glass House, The Steam Room, The Engine Room, The Coal Hopper, and The Power House served as safe spaces to speak on art, activism, and scholarly research. This great doing must have been a frothy pipe dream coming true for a forum in its seventh cooperative, held previously in big cities such as New York City, Florence, and Paris. Fronted by Tisch Photo Department Chair Deborah Willis and Cornell University's Visual Studies Director Cheryl Finley, this juggernaut of a conference crashed down for the first time on the African continent, igniting provocative conversations marginalized bodies needed to have.

Johannesburg's historic Turbine Hall set stage for inevitable discussions.
A near packed house await opening remarks.
Black tote bags honor Africa and those traveling from North America.
Imperative short speeches snatched reality into its clutches, letting attentive audience become fully aware of present problems facing all brown individuals-- seeded problems that have hindered us throughout displaced history. Speakers called out for respecting diversity of disenfranchised humanity, disregarded majority speaking up for marginalized bodies, worldwide colonialism phenomenon, and understanding transcendence.

Deborah and Cheryl giving welcoming remarks.
U.S. Ambassador Patrick Gaspard quoted Zora Neale Hurston, "adorn and transform outside world art can illuminate." He praised black women writers and artists: Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorna Simpson, Mary Sibande, Carrie Mae Weems, Deborah Willis, and Zanele Muholi. He also addressed critical concerns about issues pertaining to South African women. They were more likely to be exposed to diseases (more than 2,000 a week) and not receive medical assistance.
Artist Hank Willis Thomas says, " I think of blackness as a state of mind, not a skin color."
Zanele Muholi was coerced onto stage to sing the South Africa anthem.
"We often accept our racial naming without retort," said plenary speaker Dr. David C. Driskell, "racial naming does not define us." He spoke about various experiences coming to Africa continent. First, he came to represent William H. Johnson, curating his works at a South Africa gallery. During this experience, however, Driskell was subjected to strangely delusional apartheid reclassification-- that African Americans are considered "honorary white" due to their American citizenship, which was another way of dehumanizing. 

One of Driskell's self portraits, depicting a "positive trajectory of self."
Dr. Nikki Greene compared Maria Magdelena Campos Pons and Kara Walker's works based in the sugar plantations.
A few standout highlights:
In The Steam Room, "A Continent as a Woman" featured panelists discussing feminine roles in the arts. From Celia Cruz to Grace Jones, scholars and essayists presented brilliant reflections of their respective roles in the arts, their grand importance beyond using beauty.

Adrian Loving examined the power of Queen Grace Jones. She is a bold, brazen, colorful, risk taking, androgynous, beautiful piece of glamorous history that is always ignites a fiery dialogue.  
A promo shot of BAPS starring Halle Berry and Natalie Desselle Reid from Maisha Stephens-Teacher's "Africans As Original Hairdressers" presentation.
The For/Four Women Panel led by Jessica Rucker and Tia Thompson explained gatekeepers of blackness, acts of defiance, and rejection of surveillance. Their joint collaboration featured recorded documentations using still photography-- a unique way of capturing textures of skin, wrinkles and showing intimacy, Nina Simone's "Blackbird" in mind.
Alicia Bonaparte and Andrea Chung bridged a relationship between research and art, focusing on Jamaican midwives and the OBGYN's battle to dismiss their importance.

Another shot from Stephens-Teacher's presentation. This featured the elaborate sophistication of braided crown hairstyles-- the pure artistry and majestic design.
ArtNOIR Panel included Fhatuwani Mukheli, Nontsikelelo Mutiti, Milisuthando "Mili" Bongela (moderator), Lina Viktor, Itani Thalefi, and Mpumelelo Mcata.
ArtNOIR's “Universal Blackness” panel, which was on day two, discussed agency of importance, body transcending identity politics, hair braiding as technology, and conceptualizing idea of home for those African descendants residing all over the globe. They were focused on keeping Africa as part of their artistic narrative, some finding no sense of kinship in one specific place.

“At the Goodman Gallery opening last night, someone said to me, 'I want our city back',” Mili mentioned, saying that this person wasn't enjoying black American "coming home" philosophy. It was interesting, somewhat expected topic. Particular point of discussion was tough yet not packed with brutal punches. The artillery wasn't hurtful missiles launched at foreign travelers. In fact, they compared tension filled phenomenon to an awkward first date. Honest candid confession about black Americans seemingly taking over Johannesburg, with “homeland” speeches put a toll on local intellects. Yet Mili heroically salvaged the statement by insinuating that all African descendants share a mission-- to dismantle chains of colonialism ideals spread throughout the globe.

Transcontinental relationship between African American and South Africa: South Africa is "depicted as imbibers whereas diasporic African Americans are exemplars of modernity that Africans want to emulate."
Lupita braiding Nontsikelelo Mutiti's hair from Vogue Magazine.
Nervous Conditions: Representations of Black Femininities was this colossal final act set spearing heart, surging so deep inside an abyssal pulpit one hadn't realized existed within. Women came up to the mic, spilling uncomfortable confessions that made attentive souls feel only great empathy.  Bittersweet and dark and raunchy and broken, these opened scars delivered to listeners. In the audience, uncontainable weeping and tear droplets seeped from eyes, mouths wobbled and trembled, polished hands frantically wiping evidence .We were being reborn together, our seeds smoothly massaged, taking away damaging dirt and weed.

In every nook and cranny, gatherings were afoot.
Overall, fierce determined allegiance spread throughout, a sweetly contagious affliction brewing with splendid ideas and creative possibilities buzzing in thick air. Relationships began to form-- friendships, kinships, camaraderies. Everyone latched on to resonating words being spilled and gutted out, these triggering words igniting something rarely experienced.
For a painfully shy observer, reluctance seemed to come away at the seams, tearing away to let inside new people to cherish and support; these carefree artists, these young revolutionary thinkers. 
To say Black Portraiture, one of the best moments of my life, was well worth the travel is a great understatement. This mere wonderment provided more than originally hoped. Something viscid and engaging remains inside me like a precious gift. I had slowly unwrapped and kept its contents.
I truly cannot thank my supporters enough for the opportunity let alone the organizers who chose which candidates should share their wisdom and words with such an eloquent audience, what an unforgettable pleasure.  Thank you to my friends, my family, Black Portraiture [s] committee ad its attendees for making my year special, for granting beautiful memories to cement forever.

No comments:

Post a Comment