Wednesday, May 17, 2017

An Idiot's Guide to Black Culture

If you’re a frequent reader of Otis Unfiltered, you’ve likely noticed that there have been a fit of starts and stops.  What can I say, managing a blog while taking three courses pass/fail your spring semester senior year of college allows much more time to let the creative juices flow than adulting.  Back in February, I started an outline for an article about three things to do this Black History Month that don’t involve learning about George Washington Carver, and then life happened and I never got around to actually writing said article.  While February has long passed, I figured, why can’t we learn about black history and celebrate black culture any month?  So voila, here’s  an Idiot’s Guide to Black Culture (which is by no means exhaustive!!).
Hank Willis Thomas, "Black Power," 2006.
1. Watch black films not set on a plantation.
Representation matters.  Let’s take the Oscars for example, the crown jewel of artistic merit in the American film industry.  In response to two consecutive years of black actors’ exclusion from the “Best Actor” category at the Oscars, a boycott emerged titled #OscarsSoWhite, forcing the Academy to reevaluate its criteria for selecting nominees and the complexion of its nominating body.  This year’s Oscars represented a sea change, with six black actors and actresses up for nomination.  And the films do not disappoint.  Now this may look like affirmative action to those Abigail Fishers out there, but numbers don’t lie, and Get Out is the third highest-grossing R-rated horror film ever.  It’s almost like people want to see themselves on screen!

Recommendations: I Am Not Your Negro, 13th, Moonlight, Brown Sugar, Love and Basketball, Two Can Play That Game and Get Out.

2. Read literature by the greatest American authors of all time not on your high school syllabus.
Think about your high school English curriculum. It probably looked a little like this: Macbeth, Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Notably absent?  Non-white, non-male, non-Western authors.  An Idiot’s Guide to Black Culture would be remiss without providing the African American literary canon, including Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Another Country by James Baldwin, Beloved by Toni Morrison and Black Boy by Richard Wright, each of which deals with the black psyche in extraordinary prose.  Not looking for a side of Sparknotes with your read? Check out contemporaries like Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

3. Discover artists not named Picasso who also sell for millions:
You don’t have to look far to discover black art nowadays.  Mark Bradford is representing the United States in the Venice Bienniale aka the Olympics of art and major career retrospectives of black artists now seem like the norm rather than the exception.  Take Kerry James Marshall at the Met Breur in 2016, Kehinde Wiley at the Brooklyn Museum in 2015 and Chris Ofili at the New Museum in 2014.  If this sounds like a foreign language, follow @MuseumMammy, see the Black Radical Women exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum and visit the Studio Museum in Harlem.

Mickalene Thomas, "Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe: Les trois femmes noires," 2010.

Mickalene Thomas, "Tamika Sur Une Chaise Lounge Avec Monet," 2012.

Carrie Mae Weems, "Ain't Jokin'," 1987-88.

Carrie Mae Weems, "Ain't Jokin," 1987-88. 

Hank Willis Thomas, "Absolut Power," 2003.

Chris Ofili, “Ovid-Actaeon,” 2011 – 12. 

Chris Ofili, "Pimpin Ain't Easy," 1997.

Kerry James Marshall, "Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self," 1980.

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