Culture Wars & Homework

Aside from homework (reading other thesis proposals and a big article) I also checked out a Youtube video called The New Culture Wars: How the Right Stifles Free Speech Through Art Censorship.

The video contains a part of a panel discussion about censorship as it relates to art. I was especially taken with AA Bronson’s following quotes:

I’m not actually a supporter of copyright, I steal images all the time.

I have mixed feelings about being on this panel because I feel that one of the big problems in America is the use of militaristic language and the kind of language that’s being used in the publicity for this event I feel is completely inappropriate. I think that if you’re going to have a “battle,” going to have a “fight” you’re only going to make things ultimately worse.

This is an idea that can also be applied to the language used in discussions surrounding race, whiteness, etc. Using the word race implies division. The word becomes a tool that cuts rather than heals. The trick is to find other ways of speaking and it is possible that this can happen in art. I am hoping…

Word Roots

Thinking about/researching ideas for my Dictionary project I came across the following two sites (and I wonder why no teacher ever introduced charts like this in any of my grade school and high school classes):

prefixsuffix.com and learnthat.org

(Additionally, today I am doing required reading for the class Dialogues and Interactions that started on Tuesday – although I am not looking forward to all the reading and writing that I know is coming – the content does look promising.)

British Vogue

Over the past couple of weeks I have extracted samples from the April 2011 British Vogue issue. My first impression is that it is whiter than the American Vogue, but this may not apply for every month. Italian Vogue produced an issue devoted entirely to black models in July 2008. Obviously it not indicative of the overall trend of the magazine. I followed the same parameters for this work as for the last one, Skin Tags (April 2011) with one exception. In this case the samples are in order top to bottom, left to right as they appeared in the magazine.

Process.
Process.
Skin Tags (British Vogue April 2011), collage on paper, 22x30 inches.
Skin Tags (British Vogue April 2011), collage on paper, 22×30 inches.
Detail.
Detail.

Do I Want to be an Ethnographer?

I read an article in Frieze (Mar 2011) titled Good Intentions by Negar Azimi (pp. 110-15). The article discusses art and political engagement offering the following in the conclusion:

In the end, art that stems from knowing that we actually don’t have all the answers, art that refuses to serve as a moral compass, art that doesn’t “make nice” may be our best hope. (115)

As well, the series on Knowledge Network by Dr Gus Casely-Hayford, Lost Kingdoms of Africa, and the PBS series Black in Latin America with Dr Henry Louis Gates both demonstrated how much of the history we learn is incomplete and so obviously biased. (More on this, the modernist project, and my son’s opinion later.)

I have also been asked to think about my project in terms of auto-ethnography.

Born to war-damaged, immigrant Dutch parents in Canada (who divorced when I was 10), I was surrounded by a strict religiosity characterized by conservatism (so you can imagine how the divorce went over), Puritanical zeal, insulation from the secular world, and labour. Canadian women wore their hair in rollers to the supermarket, we did not. Canadian women walked while they were smoking, while I was taught to sit down while smoking (after my mother reluctantly acknowledged my new cigarette habit). Our Canadian neighbours laughed outloud on their front porches for the whole street to hear, where we were instructed not to be too loud. Handel’s Messiah was on the record player every Sunday before, inbetween, and after the two services we attended.

As a six year old my mother gave me a black doll to play with. I named her Rosie. I liked her and I recall being really angry at my baby sister for pulling some of the hair out of the top of her head. My mother tells me that she saw the doll in the hardware store and decided to get it because of her own feelings about “zwarte mensen” (black people). When she was in the hospital labour room in 1961 another woman in labour was brought in. The woman was black. My mother who had never been so close to a black person was suddenly feeling unsure of herself. “How do I talk to her,” she thought. She struggled with feelings of fear. Not feelings of fear directed toward the woman, but feeling fear of finding herself being in a totally new situation. She had no idea how she should relate to this woman. So when the doll presented itself to her in the shop she decided that she should buy it for me so that I would not have to feel the same way that she had.

Joyce, Rosie, "dolly", and Liz having a picnic in the backyard.
Joyce, Rosie, “dolly”, and Liz having a picnic in the backyard.

Not long after, my parents redecorated the living room and above the stereo hung a print of Rubens’ Head of a Man.

Peter Paul Rubens, Head of a [Black?] Man, 1615?
Peter Paul Rubens, Head of a [Black?] Man, 1615?
What do those examples have to do with whiteness? They are a part of my own personal experience while in a body that is accepted as white. At the time I did not think about the reason I had a black doll when none of my Dutch school friends did, or why I didn’t see pictures of blacks in any of their homes either. My first conscious encounter with racism came when I was 17, holding hands walking down the street in Malton with my Jamaican boyfriend.  A vehicle drove by with a group young men (looked white) who yelled out the window at us “What a waste!” I wondered what in the world did they mean? I had to ask “John” what they meant. In some ways I was so naive. I did not seriously begin to unpack and examine my own whiteness until I saw William Pope.L’s work in the book The Friendliest Black Artist in America.

It’s at this point that I imagine text based works that say things like “serve me nicely because I am white” or ” I know that I am white.”

So…auto-ethnography…I am not yet convinced. It is true that all art I make is informed by my own experiences (all of them), but I am not certain that I want to address them directly at this point. I’m not sure how that would look. Maybe it could simply involve an acknowledgement of my own influences.

A few resources on Auto-Ethnography (it’s a start):

Work

The following image in the Skin Tags series is from the April 2011 issue of Vogue. This time the tags (7mm diameter) are spaced slightly farther apart on a larger sheet of paper. The tags are also sampled without revealing specific body parts such as eyes, mouth etc. Some are therefore ambiguous about the location of the body they are punched from. There are a total of 309 tags.

Skin Tags (Vogue April 2011), collage on rag paper, 22×30 inches.
Skin Tags (Vogue April 2011), collage on rag paper, 22×30 inches.
Detail of “Skin Tags (Vogue Apr 2011).”
Detail of “Skin Tags (Vogue Apr 2011).”