Archive for December, 2012

In Solidarity with Black Culture

December 31, 2012

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Over the years, I’ve done some studies on African history and culture.  I listen to a lot of African music.

Then, too, I’ve always immersed myself in African-American culture.

I love the music from blues to jazz to soul. I’ve even gone back and listened to early 20th-century pre-jazz black music.  There are also other forms from various pop songs, dance music, and rap/hip hop.  I could easily name hundreds of names, including Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Robert Johnson, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Eric Dolphy,  Herbie Nichols, Randy Weston, Billy Strayhorn, Sun Ra, Joseph Jarman, Roscoe Mitchell, Julius Hemphill, James Carter, Count Basie, Billie Holiday,  Fats Waller, Lonnie Johnson,  Howard Armstrong, Mary Lou Williams, Bessie Smith, and Art Tatum.

In popular music I go from the Five Royales to James Brown to Motown Records to Prince to George Clinton to  Sly Stone.  I could (and have) just list piles and piles of names.   Each conjures its own world of sounds and a sustained oeuvre.

I love a lot of Black writers from the Harlem Renaissance to people like Ted Joans, Bob Kaufman, Richard Wright, Aime Cesaire, Ishmael Reed, Ralph Ellison, and more.

When I was doing my drawings on Detroit’s abandoned J.L. Hudson’s Building in the 1990’s, black visual art was a big influence.  I studied African and Egyptian art a lot, and it got into my work.  I appreciate more modern Black artists, too, from Bob Thompson to Jean-Michel Basquiat.

There are plenty of excellent Black artists around Detroit, including Aaron Ibn Pori Pitts, Charles McGee, Gilda Snowden, Tyree Guyton, Lester Johnson, and Allie McGhee.  I knew Tyree Guyton’s late Grandfather Sam Mackey.  He was an inspiration to a lot of us back then.

Then there’s the whole social protest/self-defense tradition from Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Ida B. Wells to Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Stokely Carmichael, and many more.

A lot of these people had Detroit connections, too.  It’s most obvious in music, yet it also goes to other places as well.

Surrealism has also given me a special perspective.  It, too, is in love with much of black culture and is inspired by its paths of understanding and of resistance.

I’m preparing work for an upcoming exhibit, Black Detroit 21, at the Work Detroit Gallery on Martin Luther King Boulevard and Woodward. It opens January 11, 2013 and goes through March 22.  I’m part of a group of eleven artists.

I hope that my work for this exhibit combines and plays off of these two themes.  My love and respect for the city of Detroit and my love and respect for Black thought and culture both inform all my work.  I’ll try to combine these directions.

Here, for this exhibit, this work is part assemblage and part riffing or improvising.   You’ll see what I came up with.

This post is in memory of the great poet Jayne Cortez 1934-2012

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More information on this exhibit: