Since deciding to focus my research for this course on Black male intimacy and jazz, I have begun to reflect more broadly on Black male bodies expressing themselves around issues that are important to them by looking at the performative aspects of Black male artistic expression. Root-Bernstein (2001) describe the body thinking of Jackson Pollack, “Each canvas is, therefore, a record of his movements, an action painting. If you do not feel the physical sensations involved in Pollock’s artistic process, then you do not understand his art” (p. 165). As I read this what came to mind was the artist David Hammons, who’s work I saw at a show in Los Angeles called “Now Dig This”. David Hammons is an African American artist who amongst other processes, is known for using his body to create his art (see images below). Hammons body art was created during the earlier 1970s as part of the Black power movement. Hammons would cover has skin with Crisco oil (a cooking oil that was frequently used in Black households) and press body against the canvas to form impressions that he would then modify by sprinkling pigment and graphite to create pieces that spoke to issues like black male incarceration and stereotypes about the black male body.
From the previous weeks reading, Observing (Root-Bernstein, 2001, pp. 30-49) although I found the writing to be a bit repetitive, I really enjoyed reading this chapter. It seemed to be describing what is now referred to as visual culture. I have personal experience with the benefits of observing the world through eyes of an artist. My husband is a visual artist and has a Master’s degree in Visual and Cultural Studies. I asked my husband D. Deterville (personal communication, October 18, 2013) to describe visual culture: “Visual culture is the broadened field of art history that takes into consideration – not just fine art expression – but all of the phenomenons that occupy the visual field. Visual culture is about multiple ways of seeing and the ways in which culture is constructed by those different modes of visuality”.It has been through my relationship with my husband Duane, that my appreciation and understanding of how to observe has been expanded. Two examples of this is through my participating in his creation of a series of twenty-seven ground drawings in which he would do rubbings from common objects – manhole covers, street grates, and ornamented doors. Using these rubbings as a base, he would then create profound works addressing spiritual and political themes. I’ve attached three images – two focused on the Kikongo (Congo cosmology) concept of life, birth, death and one that pay tribute to the Black Panther Party using a play on Yoruba religious symbols. In the creation of the pieces Duane would knell on the street – often at night, with me holding a flashlight and watching for cars and cops.
Root-Bernstein, R.S. & Root-Bernstein, M.. 2001. Sparks of Genius: The Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People. Houghton Mifflin Company