Art and Racism

free essayRacism requires neither explanation nor analysis. Its ineradicable slogans spread all over the world and negatively influence the minds of the society members. The existence of racism cannot be justified. It is a definitive statement that is absolute and unprovable, having all the signs of an axiom. Being available to all, though not accepted by all, racism is a concept that becomes more efficient and vaguer with time. Nevertheless, fast popularization of the given term among people from different parts of the world is normally caused by the sense of vulnerability of each individual that has lost his sense of political, social, religious, and economic self. As a result, the people begin their frantic search for the signs of permanence, as well as the transmission of values, which can ensure sustainability, identify the past and the present, and promise the legitimacy of their position. In other words, it results in appearance of racial stereotypes and supporting of them by people. Thus, it is clear that racism, as well as the respective stereotypes, is a problem that must be addressed, with art being one of the ways to do it. In this regard, the works by male and female black artists are of particular interest as they allow looking at the issues from the point of view of a victim.

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In their works, most of the black male and African American artists tried to resist the racial stereotypes that were accompanying them for decades. However, there are those artists who utilize them to their fullest extent, providing for rather unusual but, nevertheless, significant effect. In particular, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, a black British artist, exaggerates the racial stereotypes in his work named Nothing to Lose IV. The picture depicts a half-naked, masculine black man wearing attire consisting of leafs and herbs (Foster et al. 642). It is possible to say that he looks exactly as the white people would depict him. At the same time, he bites into some edible plant. In such was, it is clear that he is completely united with nature as no other man-made objects are seen in the picture. In other words, he is free from the participation in the everyday rat race that is common for people living in the big cities. In this regard, he has nothing to lose as all he has is given to him by nature itself rather than by people. Therefore, despite the stereotypes that depict black people as slaves, a person on the picture enjoys more freedom than the people relying on the benefits provided by the civilization. It is possible to say that the work by Fani-Kayode demonstrates that people resorting to the use of racial stereotypes are often slaves themselves. Being deeply engaged in their way of life, they cannot overcome their dependence, which makes them no better than the oppressed people they looked down upon several decades ago.

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Another black male artist, Yinka Shonibare, utilizes the strategy of stereotypical grotesque, depicting a black man as a Victorian dandy in one of his unnamed works from the Effnick series. Such combination is very unusual, and may be considered unnatural by many people. Indeed, a black person wearing Victorian attire is not something that could be seen in the real life. At the same time, it is difficult to ignore the fact that that the man in the picture does not look awkward or uncomfortable. On the contrary, he is dignified and has an air of nobility and masculinity surrounding him, perfectly fitting into his exquisite surroundings (Foster et al. 643). The grotesqueness of the situation, nevertheless, provides a sharp contrast between the stereotypical image of a black person and the reality. As a result, despite the seeming incompatibility of the model and the background, the end result looks quite natural, which makes the viewer doubt the existing stereotypes regarding the inferiority of the former slaves. Therefore, the use of grotesque and exaggeration by the mentioned artists is quite efficient in terms of combating racism. Moreover, the uniqueness of their attitude towards it makes their works stand out among the ones of the other authors, making them interesting and peculiar examples of the art of black people.

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At the same time, the female African American artists have a different approach to the problem of racism, trying to make the viewers relate to the oppressed ones. In this regard, it is possible to turn to the art of Adrian Piper, specifically her Mythic Being series. In particular, in her works, Piper often resorts to the use of the so-called attention getters, i.e. the visual techniques that make the viewer focus on the picture. However, due to the fact that she is not only an artist but also a philosopher, namely the one representing the Kantian school, she tried to raise philosophical questions in her art (Foster et al. 639). For example, her work named I Embody is a self-portrait that depicts an artist having features typical for an African American woman, namely the afro-style hairdo. It is interesting to note that Piper looks directly at the viewer, which creates an illusion of her eyes following a person that approaches the picture, attracting its attention. The portrait also contains linguistic constructions (i.e. words and phrases) that complement the image, making its idea easier to grasp. The phrase goes as follows: “I embody everything you most hate and fear,” which makes a sharp contrast with a tired look in the eyes of a woman as she resembles a victim rather than an offender. Moreover, it is written in crude letters, as if reflecting the state of mind of an oppressed person (Golden 27). The use of such strategy allows making Piper’s art understandable for all people rather than just critics. Most importantly, it raises the philosophical question immediately, which, being combined with the attention getters mentioned above, makes the viewers stop and think about the problems the artist tried to convey to them. Such combination of art and philosophy, as well as the use of visual techniques, makes the works of Adrian Piper quite interesting and efficient as their contents are etched into the minds of the viewers easily.

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Another female African American artist, Lorna Simpson, also uses the technique based on the linguistic constructions, namely in her work named The Waterbearer. It depicts a young woman dressed in white clothes and holding a mug and a plastic bottle in her hands, pouring water out of them (Foster et al. 641). The contrast between the blackness of the background and the whiteness of her garment makes her figure stand out, attracting the attention of the viewers. However, her face is not seen to the people. Such facelessness of a model provides a person (namely a female one) with an opportunity to associate itself with this woman. In other words, they relate themselves to her and her dilemma, which is described in the accompanying phrase that summarizes the indifferent attitude of the society towards the problems of black people. At the same time, it is not a part of the picture as it has a different background and a clear boundary between it and the actual image. Therefore, it can be considered an author’s remark for the viewers. Moreover, the arms of the model resemble the scales (Foster et al. 641), which can be considered a sign that the deeds of any person will be taken into account some day, regardless of its race or ethnicity. Such comparison, as well as the role-playing described above, provide for an interesting and unique experience for the viewer, contributing to the effect of the message the artist tried to convey to the people. Therefore, the ability to make the people relate to the depicted persons provides for a significant effect on the viewers, making them think about the effect of the outdated racial stereotypes on the lives of others. In this regard, the works of the female African American artists are closer to the people than those of males, making them quite interesting from the psychological point of view.

In conclusion, it is possible to say that African-American artists resort to the use of a wide array of strategies to address the problem of racism in their works. Some of them exaggerate the existing stereotypes, showing how foolish and obsolete they look nowadays. On the other hand, the other people tend to rely on philosophy and psychology to convey their message to the people. However, despite the different strategies and visual techniques they have implemented, the ultimate goal of African-American artists was the same – to combat racism and the respective racial stereotypes. In this regard, it is possible to say that their works are efficient in addressing the issue in different ways and making the viewers aware of it. In particular, after seeing their works, people may ask themselves a question about the true nature of stereotypical depiction of black people, as well as its relevance to the contemporary society.