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Friday, November 11, 2011

Reactions to the Haitian Collection

People say that every time you watch the same movie over again it gets better because you notice things you didn’t each time before.  I feel as if the same idea can be applied to art. Thursday was my third time going to the Waterloo Arts Center to view the Haitian art collection and each time not only did I notice things I hadn’t the time before, but I had a totally different view on what I was seeing.
This first time I went to view this collection was before I was even taking Arts of Africa. My ignorance is very evident to me now that I have learned so much about the context of the pieces. I will admit that I was the close-minded person looking at the art as coming from an entire country rather than the cultures that make up that country.  Being as oblivious as I was to the world outside of the U.S., I honestly probably even went as far as grouping it with all African art in general.  I remember being intrigued by all the detail in the Drapos, but I had no idea what they were or what their purpose was. I left feeling more confused than anything else.
The second time I saw the collection I knew a great deal more about the history and context of Haitian art. I was able to pick out certain characteristics seen not only in the Haitian art we had been studying, but other cultures as well. One of these characteristics was the almond shaped eyes that seem to be prominent in the majority of artwork we see involving figures. They stood out to me in the Madonne Enfant II piece by Saincilus E. Ismael depicting Madonna with a female baby. Another characteristic I noticed in some of the pieces was the use of the Vévé that we discussed in class. These were symbols drawn on the ground to evoke the Lwa. One piece I found particularly interesting was Untitled by Stivenson Magloire because I felt as if I could recognize and understand some of the symbolism used. It looks like the man lying down is deceased, so the Vévé could be a representation of the crossroads and the intersection between the worlds of the living and the dead. A symbol on the drums looks as if it could be a symbol for the crossroads as well. The rooster was another part that caught my attention, as they were often used as for sacrificial purposes. However, it was more the aesthetics that I focused on when I saw everything for the second time.

This last time I went to the Waterloo Arts Center I had the articles we read last week still in my mind about authenticity, expectations, and other issues surrounding artists creating in a environment where they're the minority. Even being aware of the issues many artists have with expectations based on their backgrounds and seeing similar images in class, I’m still thrown off by the varying depictions of the Virgin and Child. The Madonne Enfant II piece by Saincilus E. Ismael is an example of how a certain thing is expected and when a person sees something that they're not used to it automatically raises questions. The piece was enough to remind me of The Holy Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili. It blows my mind how unsettling it can be to see such an iconic figured changed, even if it is as simple as just changing the skin color. That shows how being subjected to these figures in a certain way can form such strong views on the ‘right’ way they should be portrayed. Another example of this is how Renee Cox depicts The Last Supper in her piece, Yo Mama’s Last Supper. A person might have to be more than simply aware of the differences in cultures to overcome how institutionalized people we’ve become.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Reactions to Shonibare, Kasfir, and Oguibe

          The overarching theme of this week’s readings and discussion revolved around the awareness of authenticity and what it means, as well as expectations of people, such as Yinka Shonibare, based on where they're from and assumptions already formed about that area. The readings from this week included “Art, Identity, Boundaries: Postmodernism and Contemporary African Art” by Olu Oguibe, “African Art and Authenticity: A Text with a Shadow” by Sidney Kasfir, and an interview between Okwui Enwezor and Yinka Shonibare. Each reading brought up different issues that affect artists, such as being considered an “other” and living in a society as a minority.

          “For Ouattara, though, the game is already over. It was over before it even began. It was over from the moment he was born, from the moment he was destined to be – designated as – an Other.” I was intrigued by this quotation from Oguibe’s article mainly because we have been focusing on the “others” by looking into who they are in the eyes of various cultures and how they have influenced each culture as outsiders or foreigners. It raises questions in my mind about what it would be like to live life as an “other”. It was interesting to read about the interview and how the person asking the questions was more focused on where he was from and how he grew up versus the art he created, even after Ouattara pointed out that he would rather discuss his artwork. It was mentioned that the interviewers questions were intended to objectify the artist in a way, emphasizing even more how Africans are denied many of the rights we take for granted. Oguibe’s article also touches on the issue of authenticity, explaining that much of this issue has more to do with putting boundaries or limits on what African artists create as to keep a distance between their work and Caucasian art. He looks to authenticity as a way of defining and categorizing identity, much like in Kasfir’s article.

          “Ironically, it is not knowledge but ignorance of the subject that ensures its authenticity.” When I first read this quotation it seemed as if it was too simple to cover the ideas and controversy surrounding authenticity. However, as direct as it is, it still manages to encompass how authenticity is defined as something lacking identity rather than emphasis on the individual and their purpose for the piece. Kasfir mentions that anonymity is what many people are looking for when they are looking for something authentic. Basically, the more that is known about an object the less of a mystery it is, which can be taken as less appealing. This is explained, in a way, by Kasfir saying “the Western connoisseur is the essential missing factor that transforms artifact into art.” It is just another way the public reinvents the African cultures to fit into their own ideals and views.

          I found the discussion on how Africa is thought of as an entire continent as a whole rather than the various cultures found within it to be intriguing, mainly because it is how I had thought of it before this class. “So for you the trauma is this consciousness of your blackness, which you had no awareness of because you were living in a society that did not work in this racially charged hierarchical way.” I find this quotation from Enwezor during his interview with Shonibare particularly interesting because I feel as if I relate in the sense that I am not aware of my “whiteness”. We may live in a society that is “racially charged” in a hierarchical fashion, but this quotation raises questions in my mind, much like the quotation from Oquibe, about what it would be like to be among a minority, or to be surrounded by people expecting certain things of me based on their assumption of my background. In our discussion it was brought up that some people who have never been to Iowa think we have only gravel roads and don’t have access to technology like computers. To us that may seem ridiculous, but this is a major issue Shonibare must face on a regular basis; he is expected to create art based on all of the generalizations surrounding Africa.

How oblivious or limited are we regarding our expectations and perceptions of cultures outside our own?