In this current moment, which ferociously amplifies the uncertainty, pain, and disruption caused by the systemic racism and ignorance Black individuals have to constantly confront and endure, we have invited creatives and thinkers from the US, other parts of the Global Diaspora, and Africa to share their thoughts. The idea is to build a constantly growing, powerful wall of statements and voices during the next couple of days and weeks.
Meschac Gaba, Glo-Balloon, 2013. Ballon gonflable. Courtesy Stevenson. Photo: Philippe De Gobert
15. July 2020
Starting with statements from US cultural producers, we will continue to add reflections onto a daily growing wall of voices over the course of the coming weeks. All contributors have, in the most different ways and capacities, done the work of confronting racism and strengthening Black perspectives in the arts and beyond.
The idea here is to gather their crucial, on-point, and inspirational thoughts in one place to create a collection of statements that helps to empower everyone who is fighting for their right to be seen and heard as a human being with equal rights.
While the current situation feels like a moment of change in which many cultural organizations are aligning themselves in solidarity with the cause, it is at the same time revealing more than ever the structural racism and ignorance that has been and still is deeply ingrained in many institutional structures. Cultural institutions open up to present more “diverse” programs, yes. But this is implemented by teams who are still overwhelmingly white. It’s sad that it needs a moment of escalation for this extremely overdue fact to slowly start to get publicly acknowledged.
“We have always been important. We have always meant something. We have always succeeded regardless.” – John Boyega
The C& Team
“The most recent demonstrations around the world are a reflection of the need to invoke —among many other things— the right to Difference as a basic necessity. The right to generate a differential space. A right that in the words of Lefebvre means to combat the violent homogeneity of power through the appropriation of politically dominated space, using our urbanness as a condition for change.”
Elvira Dyangani Ose
“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” Toni Morrison writing in The Nation , March 23, 2015.
Inspired by the ever prescient work of Toni Morrison, the AUC Art Collective students, faculty and staff have been hard at work well even before the combined threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, police-sanctioned murders, and the relentless, everyday violence of state-sanctioned structural racism awakened our nation and the world to the need for change.
As a curator, art historian, educator and seasoned reader of visual images, the media images that have been flooding our screens, some used to catch unchecked police violence or public murders even, are nearly impossible to watch, comprehend or experience. Like you and many others, I am looking for ways to understand, heal and cope. The violent public arrest of two young people from our own AUC community, Taniyah Pilgrim of Spelman and Messiah Young of Morehouse, brought matters uncomfortably close to home.
In the coming days and weeks, I am calling on the Atlanta University Art History + Curatorial Studies Collective Community — students, faculty and staff — to work together on initiatives that help facilitate meaningful conversations, raise awareness, and discuss actions we can take together to put into action positive social change, in the art world and in our daily lives. A new 200–level class on Art and Social Justice will be pushed forward this coming academic year. Our Instagram Live Thursday Noon Lunchtime Live Conversations will continue to grapple with current events as we discuss art, education, social justice and museums. And perhaps, not ironically, my summer session course, TheBlack Arts Movement Online, begun on June 1st, is studying many of these battles, fought during the Civil Rights and Black Power eras, through close examination of the 1967 Kerner Commission Report on Civil Unrest, aesthetic practice, artist-run collectives, artistic activism, social protest, artists’ manifestos and community organizing.
You remain part of our bright future as we chart a path forward toward healing, understanding and a NEW, more just and equitable world. Together, a s members of our innovative and transformational AUC Art Collective community, we will put statements into action to forge meaningful change.
Cheryl Finley, Ph.D. – Inaugural Distinguished Visiting Director at Spelman College Atlanta
I’m finding it increasingly troubling that I personally know a number of Black museum workers across the globe who have resigned or are very seriously considering resignation because of personal racist experiences within their respective institutions. This should be a major concern to everyone who works in this industry in any capacity, as well as supporters of this industry. Although this is not a new concern, what better time than now to consider whose voices are uplifted and which voices are dismissed? Institutional silencing of Black voices is terribly troubling and speaks to a lack of understanding of the importance of bringing forth many perspectives and experiences. The constant refusal of cultural institutions to atone for their historical and current mistakes and white supremacist foundations, and instead promote blanket statements about solidarity with the Black community, is infuriating and futile.
Unfortunately the racial dynamics within cultural institutions are not insulated, rather they are a reflection of larger systemic problems within societies across the globe. The Black voice is not understood as relevant or useful. The Black body is not appreciated as sacred. This ideology must change; it must end now!
Juana Williams – Curator
We have never reckoned with our racial history. There’s an unwillingness to face the truth and go through a reconciliation process, which confronts the legacy of racial injustice at its core.
We are now at a crossroad. It is high time for a healing process that will uproot the systematic racism foundational to America. Our cultural institutions were designed to uphold these American values. Our national repositories collect and preserve the blueprints of how America by design has thrived and benefited off the land, labor and ingenuity of Black, Brown and Indigenous communities for centuries.
True reconciliation involves telling the truth. True remediation involves decentering whiteness as the dominant voice that authors our history; governs our institutions; and proceeds as judge and jury over our destiny.
It is time for our fair share. Time to share the power, resources, wealth, recognition and respect. We all deserve to flourish and live life to our fullest potential.
If you do not intend to be part of the process of renewal, then step aside because our liberated future is inevitable. History has already proven the brilliance of our self-determination, radical imagination, resilience, and unwavering willpower that believes we shall be free.
Shervone Neckles – Artist Programs Manager, Professional Development, Joan Mitchell Foundatio
Abolition, and love.
Thomas J. Lax – Curator, Department of Media and Performance at MoMA
We, in our whole selves, deserve a gorgeous, lyrical, surprising, beatific, complex, ordinary, delightful, awesome, risky, range-full, playful, decadent, whole life.
Legacy Russell – Associate Curator of Exhibitions at The Studio Museum in Harlem
8:46: I can’t help thinking about the video documenting the last 8 minutes 46 seconds of George Floyd’s life, mostly seen in snippets, and its wrenching, uncanny national and global resonances. Its uncanny verbal echo, doubling some of the last words of Eric Garner from a different place and time: “I Can’t Breathe.” These words, repeated, evoke again and again the precarity of black life itself.
I can’t un-hear, unloop Floyd’s pleading for his life, asking for his mother in the depth of a pitiless encounter with state power / casual cruelty. The recording unfolds an epic, pitiless play of power and powerlessness that has proved galvanizing for viewers, but could not stop the event itself. I’m so very glad that this criminal act was documented, but this fact also reminds me that the truth of this crime, this display of pitiless power, seemed irrelevant at the very moment of its enactment.
This witnessing has produced very grave implications and response for Minneapolis and the world, but only at a delay, after the murder. Witnessing, historical echoes of other crimes, the pleas of the victim, and the witnesses at the scene could not disrupt the crime in progress. It was inexorable, a power impossible to stop, and I remain snared, implicated deeply in its wake (along with the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, and so many others.)
Tony Cokes – Professor, Media Production at Brown University
“The history of Black populations in Brazil is intrinsically linked to civil disobedience. The Black arts have followed this same emancipatory and nonconforming tradition and resound today through movements and writings whose poetics reveal the anxieties that are, somehow, diasporic – because they concern the major movement of colonial criticism. The largescale wave of anti-democracy, loaded with racism and other brutalities, is threatening institutions, communities and groups. The present moment requires more than catchphrases or hashtags. It requires action and incisive attitudes. It requires the masses – that bedrock of the Black experience in Brazil and in the world.”
O Menelick 2º Ato
Collectively we must continue to remember that photography and images can be both empowering and ominous; and it can help us make changes to the laws as we struggle to find words for this painful moment. I am encouraged by our students’ activism as they photograph this charged moment and at the same time make photographs of the causes of inequities. I urge everyone to use this incredible energy to vote; to document injustices and be encouraged by the voices of the people around this country telling this story globally and depicting the faces of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd on their face masks, t-shirts, signs, and murals to ensure that this will be the last time.
(This a quote from an elaborate personal message Deborah Willis wrote for the community. She kindly forwarded us the piece, which you will find in full here.)
Deborah Willis – Artist and Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University
The museums now posting “black lives matter“ are the same ones who have participated in the social death of black folks… Do black lives matter on your curatorial team or board? Do they matter in your collections and shows?
Antwaun Sargent – Writer, Curator, Critic
The gallery was founded to promote and empower young Black artists. This remains our core mission.Throughout the gallery’s tenure, and after eight years of labor, the opportunity to work with my contemporaries of African descent, was and remains my greatest honor, even considering exclusions and prejudice I experienced, on behalf of the gallery, and personally.
For individuals and organizations to only speak up now, and to only show support now, negates the hardship, the dedication, and the relevance of Black art, then and now.
Our mission has always been to serve our artists, support institutions and organizations dedicated to their inclusion.
I believe questions regarding the current situation should be re-oriented:
To Institutions who have not only negated Black artists but who have not diversified their staff.
To my peers who have denied access to Black collectors.
To those who think Black art is a trend.
To publications who have not employed Black contributors nor published Black artists.
To the complacency of Western institutions who continue to exhibit looted objects and artworks not only from Africa but to the rest of the world.
To art fairs who have capitalized on the presence of Black artists and yet minimize the presence of Black dealers and collectors.
These are a few questions, listing all the concerns are fastidious.
It is impossible to look at our shared history without (re)counting Black voices, who are defined today as minorities, soon to be the greatest cause.
We stand with the protesters, and will continue to reflect during these challenging times. There can be no prosperity for anyone, without justice.
Mariane Ibrahim – Gallery Owner
Tony Cokes. Courtesy of Greene Naftali Gallery
At this moment I don’t know what to say besides take care of yourself and those around you. If you claim to love someone, you have to respect them as well. I am beyond grateful for my health and that I have my mind. I want to process, register and listen, my action is to donate and encourage people to do the same at the moment.
Without pain people wouldn’t know what joy was and even though we cannot see it in the horizon at the moment, it is there and it is beautiful.
Everyone has to apply the best version of themselves regardless of how hard it is, it’s not easy being brave but it’s what we need right now.
I don’t think it’s time for me to speak when everyone is showing their ass rn.
No one is actually listening to one another atm.
it’s so silly to say “be safe”
But I will say listen to your intuition.
If something don’t feel right go home.
If you think a group of people are watching you call someone. Anybody
Get someone on the phone let them know your location.
Diamond Stingily – RAGGA NYC
Here, at ARTS.BLACK we are enraged, saddened, and angered to learn of the deaths of Tony McDade, David Actee, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and many others who continue to be killed by U.S law enforcement and armed civilians. As we find ourselves in a perpetual state grief, we want to encourage anyone reading this to learn how you can support defunding U.S police and prisons, and the people affected, disproportionately and violently, by such institutions. We have compiled a list of bail funds, freedom funds + mutual aid networks to support right now throughout the U.S. It is by no means comprehensive. We are following, learning from, and highlighting from sources such as It’s Going Down and The National Bail Fund Network.
Taylor Aldridge & Jessica Lynne – Founders ARTS.BLACK
I’ve seen a lot of companies and organizations voice support and solidarity with the Black community over the most recent instance of police brutality with the murder of George Floyd, largely because of the ensuing protests and riots and global media focus. If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound? Of course it does. When the protests die down and the media moves on to the next thing, I hope the solidarity remains. There is a 24/7 struggle for social, economic and health equities for Black people and those of us on the front lines need help now, needed help before, and will continue to need help in the future. Consider putting some teeth behind your voices of support and solidarity and make a longer-term commitment that can really move the needle. Otherwise, I consider voices of support and solidarity to be empty, selfish gestures for a good PR lift.
Shimite Obialo – Esq., Founder & CEO Anoko House
In this moment, many now call for revolution
calling for public spaces and public spectacles
male combatants and male leaders
masculinist definitions of freedom, equality and justice that
draw on the language of war, and the quotes of male sages:
Fanon, Che, Barack.
This time, let us
past revolution and into transformation
encompasses not only the streets but the
and underpasses where those shooed, harassed, assaulted and
humiliated out of the public space
Dr. Michelle M. Wright – Augustus Baldwin Longstreet Professor of English
I am ok, exhausted and drained these days. I am in New York, Brooklyn. Yesterday was my 33rd birthday and I woke up to military helicopters (or ghetto birds as some call them) hovering over my apartment building for what felt like hours. I eventually was able to go back to sleep but subsequently dreamt that the copter’s rotor blades were dangerously close to my neck applying pressure and my body was being drained of its breath in a dementor-like fashion. Utter despair everywhere. Very doomsday. Intense, what a way to start off a birthday….with a nightmare that resembles reality so acutely.
Danielle A. Jackson—Writer, Curator
I wish I could say something incredibly eloquent here, but all I keep thinking about is how depressed I am because this moment feels repetitive. These deaths of known and unknown bodies either through direct murders or human-caused viruses just keeps happening and while I continue to support in the ways that I can, it often feels meaningless because everything feels s so overwhelming large.
I am in a very privileged position because I grew up upper middle class, had a great education that was paid for, and am gainfully employed. I am trying to use my external platform to promote artists of color, to promote social, economic, legal, and artistic organizations focused on artists of color, and promote related protests happening to other brown bodies around the world. I am also trying to use my own funds to support local organizations that are doing the work above. I hope it’s enough.
In regards to what I feel art institutions should do at this moment, it is to be transparent. It’s easy to put out a statement saying that you are against discrimination and reject racist rhetoric, but it’s much harder to do that through action. I think museums should have images of all board members with their names on their websites. I think board meetings should be open to the public so the latter knows how institutions spend their money. I think museums need to ask all individuals in their community what they need from them, not just members. Yes it will open them up to scrutiny and critique, but that is part of being “thought leaders.” You have to take criticism for the ideas you come up with because you’re supposed to be serving as many, and as broad a demographic as you can.
Kimberli Gant – Curator
To say I have no words would be a lie. I have my own words and the words of Christina Sharpe to help me understand. And Kamau Beaihwaite to gently soothe my soul. And the words of Nina Simone’s 22nd century to remind me what time it is. But the worlds that are drowning out the words I need are statements from so many institutions and organisations who were terrified to utter the words BLACK LIVES MATTER for fear that in uttering these words that their own lives and agendas mattered more. Now they use the words to share their supposed anti racism. It took a black man to die in the midst of a locked down global pandemic world where a disease is disproportionately killing black and brown folks, when you finally see the black human (not the first) that died at the hand of the police, the authorities, the state! And this is part of a global pandemic of systematic racism that has been going on for centuries. And it’s now that you see it! Well. I’m reading your statements and archiving them and I want to remind you that unlike you we have not conveniently forgotten our histories to only commemorate the victories that you think make you look good and righteous. We have long and deep memories. Embedded deep within every cell of our bodies. We see you and we will remember your empty words! We’ve heard them before
Barbara Asante – Artist
“If and when it occurs, Black representation in museums has consisted primarily of either pillaged artifacts or artworks that reflect Black suffering. I think that Black artists need more from our institutions than just a stage built to uphold the Theatre of Black Death. As an artist, I’d like to see institutions worldwide challenge their own existing infrastructures such as to provide active mediation around how they can enable us, their dear actors, to play our roles in supporting the cause of our Lives.”
Miles Greenberg – Performance Artist
We can’t breath in this whirlpool
With their boots on our throats
But still we rise
Their yoke break our backs
But we’re still standing
We’ve been standing since the dawn of civilization
And will be standing on the other side of this darkness
Victor Ekpuk – Artist
I have been reminded several times this weekend of the words of Frederick Douglass, ‘Power concedes nothing without demand’. Power is not dished up on a plate with equal portions for all if we are to see progress in the self-determination of how we wish to live politically, socially, economically and culturally we will need to struggle to attain that vision. The site of protest is also the site of pedagogy, contestation and public voicing. A political chorus. The right to protest is a reminder to ourselves that we have voices and when we learn to collectively voice, we have power. The responsibility we have as cultural institutions is to recognise that we are not neutral, we also need to learn how to relinquish control in order to be relevant to the people we wish to serve. To be spaces of publicness that allow for difficult conversations, vulnerabilities and intimacy.
Sepake Angiama – Artistic Director, iniva
I am consistently asked about what measures can be put in place in order to ‘increase visibility, amplify voices, offer opportunities…” for black / POC voices in our industry. This line of inquiry still implies that we must request and be granted access. Visibility is an invitation to take a seat at the table. It is a form of progress but given that we built the house too, co-hosting the party would be more appropriate. The urgency is how to integrate diversity structurally.
There is a system in place that makes it harder for Black / POC communities to access positions in our industry. Like in any other profession, being successful in the art world, as an artist, a curator or a gallerist requires knowledge and talent, which are equally distributed in the population. It also requires a great deal of network, opportunity, time, confidence and money – which are not equally distributed. For instance low paid entry jobs form an obvious barrier of entry – they are only viable for young people with an existing financial support system. Most curatorial positions require a PhD but prohibitive university fees limit access to higher education only to those whose families can afford it. We have to look at the lack of diversity in the arts industry systemically and address the conditions that produced this situation: from housing, to education to recruitment. The optics of increased visibility and representation in programming alone are too narrow.
Eva Langret – Artistic Director, Frieze London
I have been managing rage-full tears for twelve days now – no – thirty years more than a hundred years, there have been thousands of knees on necks and names countless names of lost – no – taken ones_ and _and_ and_ and_and.
I am BLACK and tired and searching and want to celebrate birthdays Celebrate something – anything really and BE Matter. yesterday, today and forever.
Have you heard the screaming, screeching, reverberation
I have – been moved and preparing for a signal.
Felt the motion reckoning. This swelling movement for – about – defending Black Lives.
A movement of We’s – that demand grabbing, shifting, pressure breaking, burning, crumbly, airy, billowy change. an end.
NIC Kay – Artist
Tony Cokes. Courtesy of Greene Naftali Gallery
I keep coming back to the imagery of waves. Of their sheer force, of what they dredge up, and what they leave behind. Covid 19 was heralded by some as the great equaliser. Until we saw that black and brown people were bearing the brunt of the disease. And we thought, haven’t we suffered enough? But the suffering was the point.The first wave of the virus dredged up the consequences of centuries of inequality. It turned out that the virus wasn’t an equaliser, it was an amplifier.
And then George Floyd.
And an unleashing of waves of righteous anger, everywhere. With it, waves of black squares drowning out meaningful content as brands grasped for ways to say, we’re the good ones, we’re on the right side of history.
But this time…is not like other times. This wave is a reckoning. If you claim solidarity, there are now demands of accountability. And actual, radical change is happening. Could we even have imagined this? What more is out there, is out here, that was previously unimaginable? A decolonised curriculum? A state no longer ruled by kleptocracy? Queer communities that can finally breathe? Reparations? As cultural organisations and institutions, we work in the realm of imagination. And when the next wave comes, how do we create and support the conditions to remember, to challenge, to confront, everything that has come before. And how do we transform reflection into renewal, and use these waves to propel us to a more just, more equitable world.
Teesa Bahana – Director 32° East | Ugandan Arts Trust
Racial violence has haunted us for centuries, we are fed up!
The current situation in the US, triggered by the murder of George Floyd, shows us one more time how urgent it is for us to raise our voices and act in solidarity with each other. Uniting further will make our voices heard and taken more seriously.
Our roles as independent art institutions which engaged in the fight for our knowledge circulation (we are not talking about recognition anymore), no matter where we are located, are to create pockets of resistance that work and act for a better recognition of our people.
This is the time to stand and thrive.
Marie Helene Pereira – Director of programs, RAW Material Company
The simultaneous need to grieve and the desire to build can feel like working at cross-purposes right now. I know I’m struggling; between physical, emotional and intellectual labour, I’m leaning on lots of other people in my life to find moments of joy. And Black Life is so joyous. That cannot be forgotten.
In text, I have been turning to bell hooks’ Love as the Practice of Freedom: “Working within community, whether it be sharing a project with another person, or with a larger group, we are able to experience joy in struggle. That joy needs to be documented. For if we only focus on the pain, the difficulties which are surely real in any process of transformation, we only show a partial picture.”
Dr. Zoé Whitley – Director Chisenhale Gallery
“I am not African because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me”
– Kwame Nkrumah
Yes we did. We rebuilt everything while you refused to make time to notice, and still we continue to do the work. It’s exhausting, because you choose to wastefully mistake our strengths for weakness. We are Black, we are love, and we are a spiritual people. We mourn in black and red, we pour our tears out for da homies, and in celebrating life we recharge cuz’ we’re still here; just one of many African rituals of ages ago. Yet again, with Sankofa fresh on your tongue, you try to teach us about Black Art without asking yourself if Art is Black. Comme on faict son lict on le treuve.
We say Black Lives Matter because we keep our receipts. It’s time you look and learn for yourself. This educator’s lesson is about Love. Perhaps you should start with some good ole’ Luther Vandross. The writing is the digital wall; here and now, clear and bright as day.
As articulated in Saidiya Hartman’s biography and autobiography, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route, “Waste is the interface of Life and Death. It incarnates all that has been rendered invisible, peripheral, or expendable to history writ large, that is, history as the tale of great men, empire and nation. Waste is the remnant of all the lives that are outside of history and “dissolved in utter amnesia.”
How does that make you feel?
*Àshe: “The power-to-make-things-happen, a key to futurity and self-realization in Yoruba terms”