Black History Month is the month long observance and celebration in February with its origin in the United States to remember important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. It is mostly observed in the United States and Canada, and more recently adopted by Ireland and the UK, observed later in the year.
Meanhile just this week the United States moved to dissolve the House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and state governments are launching a campaign to ban books and other curricula that tell an uncomfortable history of slavery and oppression, and continuing discrimination – a strange expression of reverse reparation, if not adding insult to injury.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, the acclaimed American author, journalist, and MacArthur Fellow, wrote The Case for Reparations and made a compelling argument before Congress. Still, talks of reparations keep dying in committees and a certain terror of supremacy continues to play out with increasing fervor and hostility on the House and Senate floors, trickling down the capital steps into neighborhood streets and private porches, parking lots and routine stops on commutes, and even catholic school classrooms. It’s not actually clear if America as a nation will ever overcome.
Welcome to the .136th edition of Prescriptions. This month, for our part we revisit some of the articles and profiles which seem pertinent as ever to recognize and celebrate the artists who have inspired and created and the struggle for civil – or human – rights in spite of the un-ease and the discomfort in the face of discrimination and the continued suffering.
Demonstrations across the United States and beyond have been ignited against racism and police brutality following the murder of George Floyd by four police officers. Giving new purpose to the Black Lives Matter movement and reopening the discussion of race relations in America yet once again, the predominantly peaceful protests in certain instances have erupted in violence and have been met with less than magnanimous authority.
RaMell Ross / Hale County This Morning, This Evening (still)
Once again, the movements of #WhileBlack and Black Lives Matter have been invoked by the swift succession of recent incidents of discrimination and brutality against the black population reminding us that the pandemic is not solely from without. Today we survey some artists who have created, inspired, and engaged, while black.
Jalan & Jibril Durimel
Twin brothers Jalan & Jibril Durimel draw inspiration through their diversified upbringing between the French Antilles and the US. Born in Paris to parents from the island of Guadeloupe, at the age of 4 they moved to Miami where they first immersed themselves in American culture.
Robin Hammond / W. Eugene Smith Grant 2013
Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice & peace in the world. Thus begins the Declaration. This feature surveys artists who have created in Resistance, Rebellion, and in the Struggle for Human Rights.
Larry Amponsah (b. 1989, Accra-Ghana) is a multimedia artist whose practice investigates traditional modes of image-making whilst employing unconventional strategies of production to look at the contemporary politics of imagery. His exhibition The Soil From Which We Came is on view at Lawrie Shabibi Gallery through February 17, 2023.
Gordon Parks / Invisible Man
In honor of Black History Month, this feature presents Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison’s collaboration and shared vision of black life in America, with Harlem as its nerve center. Co-published with The Gordon Parks Foundation and The Art Institute of Chicago.
This small town symbolized the archetype of pastoral American life. Yet this idyllic place was also held hostage by a dark past, manifesting in the racial tensions that scar much of American history. Gillian Laub / Southern Rites, Organized by ICP / International Center of Photography and curator Maya Benton. Various engagements continue through 2023.
Bob Thompson was an African-American figurative painter known for his bold and colorful canvases, whose compositions were influenced by the Old Masters. His art has also been described as synthesizing Baroque and Renaissance masterpieces with the jazz-influenced Abstract Expressionist movement. His exhibition This House Is Mine recently closed at Hammer Museum.
Gordon Parks was one of the seminal figures of twentieth century photography. A humanitarian with a deep commitment to social justice, he left behind a body of work that documents many of the most important aspects of American culture from the early 1940s up until his death in 2006, with a focus on race relations, poverty, civil rights, and urban life.
Some believe art is created through a certain self reflection. Politicians rarely deal in this process. Governance, however, should at least look into the eyes of its citizens. This editorial considers the collective resignation of the 16 prominent members of the Committee on the Arts and the Humanities serving the U.S. White House to protest the less than presidential response to the Charlottesville incident which many understood to be condoning of the behavior of hate groups.
James Baldwin and Medgar Evers in a 1963 image by Steve Schapiro
A novelist and essayist of considerable renown, James Baldwin, born in 1924 in New York City, bore articulate witness to the unhappy consequences of American racial strife. Baldwin’s writing career began in the last years of legislated segregation; his fame as a social observer grew in tandem with the civil rights movement as he mirrored blacks’ aspirations, disappointments, and coping strategies in a hostile society.
Danielle McKinney (b. 1981) creates narrative paintings that often focus on the solitary female protagonist. In these intimate portraits, McKinney captures the figure immersed in various leisurely pursuits and moments of deep reflection. Engaging with themes of spirituality and self, her paintings uncover hidden narratives and conjure dreamlike spaces, often within the interior domestic sphere.
RaMell Ross / Hale County This Morning, This Evening (still)
Director and Photographer RaMell Ross’ acclaimed feature documentary is a study of light, mood, movement and Black life in the U.S. South. Dazzling and sun-drenched, Hale County This Morning, This Evening is an innovative, impressionistic portrait of contemporary life in Hale County, Alabama. RaMell Ross’ careful and considered feature was filmed over five years and is constructed from fleeting, quotidian moments – church services, basketball practice and family gatherings.
Taschen’s meticulous reprint of Richard Avedon & James Baldwin’s searing monograph, Nothing Personal, explores the complexities and contradictions of the American experience. Deploying both image and text, Avedon and Baldwin examine the formation of identity, and the bonds that both underlie and undermine human connection.
Deana Lawson (American, born 1979) received an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2004 and currently lives and works in New York. Lawson refers to the subjects of her photographs as “her family.” Her landmark exhibition Deana Lawson / 2004–Present shown earlier at ICA / Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston and MoMA / Museum of Modern Art, New York continues at High Museum of Art in Atlanta through February 19, 2023.
John Akomfrah is a hugely respected artist and filmmaker, whose works are characterized by their investigations into memory, post-colonialism, temporality and aesthetics and often explores the experiences of migrant diasporas globally.
Tyler Mitchell is a photographer and filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY. He was born and raised in Atlanta, GA where he got his start making skate videos and taking pictures of music, fashion, and youth culture. He received his B.F.A in Film and Television from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Henry Taylor is a contemporary African American painter whose enigmatic works include portraits of psychiatric patients, historical figures, and friends. “I paint everyone, or I try to,” the artist has explained. “I try to capture the moment I am with someone who could be my friend, a neighbor, a celebrity, or a homeless person.”
The selective memory of a nation still needs jogging in order for the dream to come true. This feature honors Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. Photography by Bruce Davidson, Yoichi Okamoto, Gordon Parks, James Karales, Marion S. Trikosko, and Bob Adelman.
“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. I have a dream…”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. / 1963