Sunday, August 17, 2008

Black Art.

Back in June, this installation caused a stir in the US. (Strangely, this was its second showing, but suddenly it became a security threat). Lots of views raged around the installation. Was it art? Should art be political? Was this abusing free speech? Was the closing of the installation censorship? But what does this image actually say?

Running along the side of the wall there are two hard black penises. They point, like arrows, a visual joke, towards a sign:


Of course, this puns on the sexual saying “Once you go black, you never turn back.” Black is replaced by Barack. Barack becomes the word Black…becomes the sexual fetish. The imagery is pure Mapplethorpe as are the sentiments expressed. Black political power is sexual power. Sexual power is the Black man's attraction to voters. The installation claims the same thought as Mapplethorpe’s work. It uncovers the Black male. Exposes him. Reduces a human individual to common basics: a hard, erect thug.

This imagery caused offence. Yet, it is exactly the imagery which sells today. The thug stereotype pulls in punters across the internet. The Black male figure is de-sensitised. In recent months, this had come to concern Orokie. He saw sex used as a weapon in Kenya. He saw sexual thuggery at work. (He painted his feelings in images he wished to keep private because he felt the hurt intensely). He could see how looking at the Black male as a thug also involved the viewer in visual thuggery. The sexual gaze is not innocent. How we see and look at others does matter. In his art, Orokie seeks different vision, a humanising vision. The messages sent by art must be responsible. This is not an act of puritanism, rather an act of respect for the male body, spirit and soul.


John Powers said...

Thank you for this great post. I came to this blog via a comment left at my blog around the time of the election crisis.

I'm not the brightest bulb in the pack, but I could still see there was something important going on in Orokie's work. Better said, his work raised lots of questions whose answers weren't immediately available.

I'm a white American in an era of empire. Reading blogs by Africans, I can't help to see how I'm complicit, nevertheless an awareness of dehumanization is never far out of mind.

I very much enjoyed the last post on Orokie's blue period but couldn't think of a comment to write. "New Hut" for me expresses the philosophy of Ubuntu. Like the gaze that can dehumanize, Ubuntu is too often made a joke in America; either that or romanticized beyond practical consequence.

Orokei's art is not just a critique, but a more humane vision of being human.

I thank you again for helping me to understand.

Afriboy said...

John, thank you for your wonderful comment. Ubuntu/humanity is often treated as you say. New Hut has a sentimental quaintness to it...if looked at wrongly...also naivete. But these early works were often painted with spit or tea because water was too precious to waste on art. Their simplicity tells a different story, one of defiance and honour towards simplicity and family. You sense truly. You do see the spirit in things.

rahmane said...

And it’s really curious to read this, in an African town, seated in a grilled meat seller’s shack, when it rains, and there is some vagrant wireless signal around, and so many young men toiling in the drizzle, radiant with so much elegant and vibrant eroticism that this kind of shitty art can never make you feel! Well, thanks!

Afriboy said...

Rahmane...light relief.

BronzeBuckaroo said...

Hate is a strong word. Yet, I cannot desribe how much a hate Mapplethorpe and those of his kind who have taken his images of black men downlow to create the same less obvious imagery. What upsets me more are the brothers who will voluntarily cater to such imagery for gain, any type of gain.

I am glad Orkie exists! He provides a good counter balance. Hopefully, someday soon he and brother artists like him will dominate.

Afriboy said...

The wonder is that Black Brothers still value Mapplethorpe and all that he created. They should be told that this is the man whose dream it was "to fuck a Black man whilst calling him nigger!"