John Akomfrah / Purple (still)
America has had its complicated history. From its early colonialist exchanges with the natives, through the history of slavery of Africans, the McCarthy era, the Cold War, diversity and segregation, racism and its love of arms, and now the rise of a new populism which seems to appeal to the base instincts of our humanity, or the lack thereof.
At once a great nation and an enigma of the highest order, America is a thing of extremes as seldom seen elsewhere, a contradiction unto itself, and a force to contend with.
100 years ago this month America saw what some consider one of the worst lynching incidents in its history: a mob killing 13 people, including Mary Turner and her unborn baby.
These past few weeks the movement of #WhileBlack has been on the rise on social media, on the coat tails of the #MeToo mobilization which was finally granted a small closure this week as the disgraced Harvey Weinstein was charged after dozens of victims had come forth speaking out against him.
As if the institutionalized violence against the black population were not enough, we have survived a swift succession of incidents these past few weeks where the police were summoned to intervene on individuals doing perfectly ordinary things: sitting on a porch, jogging in their neighborhood, driving a car, taking a nap in their dormitory lounge, doing mundane things, simply while black. Calling the police on these individuals must have required a fear and mistrust of others and a curious brand of courage which may clinically deserve a name. We commend the police on the many of these incidences where they found no wrong doing on the part of the suspects, who in reality were the actual victims of racial discrimination, or simply being human, while black.
From National Geographic’s launch of The Race Issue this year to the photo essay in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, the exposé on Haitian Art following the U.S. President’s disparaging remarks on African nations, to James Baldwin’s collaboration with Richard Avedon in Nothing Personal recently reissued by Taschen, we continue the conversation on race relations. Today we survey some artists, in America and beyond, who have created, inspired, and engaged, while black.
James Baldwin & Richard Avedon / Nothing Personal
Lawrence Jacob / Studio Museum Harlem