This is an opinion article. Any views expressed belong solely to the author and are not representative of The Cluster. The Black Lives Matter movement raises the question of whether Black people should bear the weight of being the world’s educators on racial discrimination and microaggressions. The idea that minorities, specifically Black people, are meant to both experience oppression and also serve as educators to the majority negatively impacts the image of people of color. It places the responsibility of educating the masses on individuals who did not ask for the job. When Black people are expected to patiently and charitably offer education on their own racial oppression, it places an added burden on them as individuals. Frankly, it is a task selfishly asked by the majority, who most likely have not had to think critically about race. Author and Black feminist Audre Lorde captures the point beautifully in her collection of essays, “Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches.” “(People of Color) are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gays are expected to educate the heterosexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own action,” Lorde said. In addition, when Black people opt out of being the metaphorical role of a teacher to the white majority, they are seen as evading an assumed responsibility. Black people’s refusal to entertain conversations around race in which they are the educator in said conversation is actually an act of defiance. They are “decentering whiteness,” a term coined by author Jeff Hitchcock, referring to when a person of color refuses to let the white majority divert a conversation back to a comfortable territory. Kalli Holloway, a columnist for The Nation, articulates the futility of racial arguments between the white majority that refuse to do anything but be spoon-fed race theory. “Few people of color gain any reward from trying to talk substantively about issues around race with white people who are willfully and wantonly obtuse about racism,” Holloway said in Salon. Black people are not meant to be the saving grace of the ignorant majority. Their experiences are not meant to be tied to a teaching lesson. The white majority can do the work themselves, and this independent research ultimately makes them better allies in amplifying Black voices.
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In a nation divided, the humanities may be the saving grace of the human spirit. Two artistic visionaries offer a light at the end of the tunnel. Poets Amanda Gorman and Jericho Brown give insightful perspectives on the ebb and flow of the human essence. Amanda Gorman is a Los Angeles native who began writing at an early age. She graduated from Harvard University in 2016 and recently became the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history after speaking at the inauguration of President Joe Biden Jan 20. In her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” Gorman perfectly captures the versatility of the human spirit. She frames her speech with hope for the country and offers a candid depiction of the nation, highlighting our advancements and speaking bluntly about our faults. She has confidence that our nation can recover from the moral separation, and she expresses this sentiment in her poem. “We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, / Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy. / And this effort very nearly succeeded. / But while democracy can be periodically delayed, / It can never be permanently defeated,” Gorman read from her poem. Renowned poet and 2020 Pulitzer Prize winner Jericho Brown encompasses a similar message in his poem, “Inaugural,” published in the New York Times. He notes the steps we have taken as well as the steps we have yet to take. “We were told that it is dangerous to touch / And yet we journeyed here, where what we believe / Meets what must be done,” Brown‘s poem reads. Brown received his doctorate from the University of Houston and his MFA from the University of New Orleans. He has published three poetry collections titled “Please,” “The New Testament” and “The Tradition.” All have received stellar reviews and won numerous accolades. Brown’s work is only one of the many examples showcasing the impact humanities can have on the community. There is no question that our nation has experienced a separation of moral principles, and that separation can be mended by the realization and connection of a common good. Visionaries like Amanda Gorman and Jericho Brown offer a look at social equity not as a competition, but as a bridge we must build together. The humanities are founded on this bridge, on the common good. The journey to this common good will not be easy, but the subsidization of humanities is the first step in realizing and achieving something bigger than ourselves.
The Museum of Arts and Sciences in Macon is showcasing some of the past works of the “Emerging Voices” art series. The series focuses on amplifying the voices of many artists and accentuating the effort put into their work. One of the artists featured, Alex Kraft, beautifully captures the art of creative expression. Kraft is a Northern Arizona University graduate, where she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in ceramics and a Bachelor of Science in art education. Kraft became one of the museum’s emerging artists in 2015. Her piece, “Marmolingot,” features an array of colors and shapes, and the sculpture morphs and curves into a beautiful abstract form. The long sprout at the top resembles a blossoming flower, and the striking colors make the sculpture an alluring piece to view. While Kraft creates abstract pieces with vivid colors, Kyungmin Park, a New York State College of Ceramics graduate, chooses a different route in expressing artistic creativity. Park was chosen as an emerging artist in 2013. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 2008 and her Master of Fine Arts from the University of Georgia in 2012. Her piece, “L’oiseau Mort,” explores the duality of life and death. A woman, painted a muted light blue, leans over a golden bird. The bird rests on a ceramic slab carved to look like a piece of wood. The woman is reaching out to touch the bird, her other hand cupping her ear. She holds a curious expression, the apple of her cheeks painted a bright yellow. The intimacy between the two figures creates a picturesque moment captured by the clay. Alexis Gregg, a 2015 Emerging Artist, diverts from both of these paths, creating work that captures the world she sees. Gregg earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Georgia in 2007 and her Master of Arts degree from California State University in 2010. Gregg’s art presents a snapshot of nature, although she adds a whimsical twist. Her piece, “Japanese Kudzu White-tailed Deer,” features a clay deer with a shimmering glaze. The fawn is sitting, its leg folded under itself, its head tilted up slightly, its ears perked and eyes looking towards the sky. The deer’s back and legs are covered in kudzu leaves, each one painted a muted green. The leaves get gradually bigger as they travel up the fawn’s body, the largest of them curling around its neck. The green creeps up the deer’s face, covering its nose and cheeks. The exhibit as a whole successfully brings past work back to life and allows the viewers a look into the minds of each creative visionary. It is a must-see for viewers interested in a diverse range of artistic styles and content. The Emerging Voices exhibit will run at the Museum of Arts and Sciences until October 2021. While you’re there, you can also check out the other three exhibitions currently on display, titled “Emerging National IX,” “Seeing & Being—The Art of William Segal” and “Masked Anxiety.”
Mercer University’s McEachern Art Center has offered its space to a choice group of MFA graduates to exhibit their theses and tell their stories. Each exhibit offers a glimpse into the artists’ worlds, and each piece has a unique story to share. Additionally, the McEachern hosts “artist talks,” where each artist has the opportunity to talk about their work and process. Caroline Ennis Caroline Ennis is a visual artist who creates work inspired by her experiences living near the Gulf of Mexico. In her thesis, “The Gulfs, The Shallows, The Deeps,” Ennis explores the duality between shallow and deep water and incorporates those themes into many aspects of her work. “My thesis is a culmination of three years of creative practice and academic research that sources from a lifetime of personal experiences on the water, specifically the Gulf of Mexico,” Ennis said during her artist talk. Ennis received her MFA from Florida State University in 2020. During her time there, Ennis explored various mediums to depict her vision of the coastline, including unfired clay, ceramics and drawing. Ennis took to unfired clay, and, as she continued to work with the medium, related the movement of the clay to water. In her thesis, Ennis depicts the multifacetedness of the shallow and deep waters on the gulf. The piece consists of three glazed ceramics sculptures placed equidistant from each other, meant to emulate the texture and feel of the gulf’s seafloor. Various nets hang above the sculptures. The nets are made of dyed fabric, and they are inspired by the relationship Ennis's family has with cast net fishing. In cast net fishing, the fisher stands at the dock and looks to catch passing schools of fish, a skill that takes time to perfect. Ennis connects cast net fishing to her interpretation of shallow water. "The gulf has been the constant driver in my work, and it is intrinsically etched into my upbringing, my ways of thinking and my way of life," Ennis said. Toni Ardizzone Toni Ardizzone received her MFA at Florida State University in 2020. She is a painter who uses her skills to explore the cyclical themes of loss and death and their relation to the living. “Death’s within life. It’s a very heavy statement, but it’s an expression that I've been referencing for my practice and my work for quite a while. This idea has evolved into attempting to create objects that reflect the contradictions in survival,” Ardizzone said during her artist talk. Her work has been partly influenced by a traumatic medical event she experienced during graduate school. The event influenced her piece, “Combat Zone,” which depicts a bouquet of wilting flowers, emulating the wilting flowers that friends and family gifted her while she was in recovery. Her thesis, “Triage,” reflects her experience with creating her work and cultivating her message while also shifting under the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. The piece serves as a timestamp of the work created during the pandemic. Ardizzone finished her artist talk Jan. 21 with a quote by Francis Bacon that she feels emcompasses her work: “The feelings of desperation and unhappiness are more useful to an artist than the feeling of contentment because desperation and unhappiness stretch your whole sensibility.” Jude Anogwih Jude Anogwih is an artist who strives to bend the conventional definition of art as “aesthetically pleasing” by instead conceptualizing the artistic process as an authentic expression of thoughts, experiences and aspirations. “I am intentionally looking into the intra/interfaces between the edge and the center of painting and a painting; the rhetoric of mark making, lapping and overlapping constraints and speculations with tapes and lines,” Anogwih said during his artist talk. Anogwih completed his MFA at The University of Alabama. His work has been recognized both nationally and internationally, with pieces featured in the International Society of Experimental Artists 29th Annual Juried Exhibition, Videonale, an art exhibition based in Lagos, Nigeria, and at Gund Gallery at Kenyan College. “My work deals with my personal travels, my assumptions and how I want to explore issues around shelter, issues around migration, movement, mobility, community—how I really want to deal with the multidimensionality of art-making,” Anogwih said. In his thesis, Anogwih experiments with relationships, encompassing how those relationships work with each other. He uses duct tape to emphasize personal and global tension, stretching the medium across his canvas to emulate the feeling of restriction. Anogwih also takes great care in the installation process of his pieces, believing installation shifts the work from individual pieces into a cohesive meaning. “It’s all about the question of my own encounters and how I try to create a vision message that allows that layer of engagement, that layer of entanglement, in what I do,” Anogwih said. Heather McLelland Heather McLelland received her MFA in ceramics at East Carolina University in 2020. In 2018, McLelland began making ceramics that related to her home life. Living with a Korean mother and Scottish-American father, McLelland drew inspiration from the elaborate dinners her parents would make for her. “I love how, if I look at my pots, it kinda tells a story about my own personal timeline, what I was doing and when I was doing it,” McLelland said at her artist talk. In her thesis, McLelland strives to express her familial experiences through the clay. Her piece, “Family Table”, represents her experience growing up as an only child. The piece features an array of plates, mimicking the many plates set on the table at dinners she would eat with her family. McLelland draws inspiration from other creators, including Rirkrit Tiravanija, who performed live installations making pad thai in galleries, and John Neely, a professor at Utah State University who practices wood firing and specializes in making detailed teapots. One piece in her thesis, titled “Conversations over coffee,” encompasses the warmth of family and connecting to others. “The fact that you can sit down with somebody, and have a conversation with someone over coffee—that’s really important to me, kind of getting this connection with people,” McLelland said. Christina Foard Christina Foard completed her MFA at the University of Georgia in 2020. Foard’s thesis, “In the Cacophony of Voices, I Only Remember What Wasn't Said,” is currently on display at the McEachern Art Center. Foard’s past work was influenced by surrealism, utilizing bold colors and stark lines to accentuate different shapes in her pieces. “The images nod to shifts in time, movement, and hint at narratives. Each is an autobiographical sensation or memory —dream-like symbols of figures and relationships,” Foard said in an interview with VoyageATL. “The occlusion of information (blockades and blurred spaces) is a primary theme in my work.” Foard will speak more about her work at her artist talk on Thursday Feb. 11. Tune in at 4 pm to hear about her process via the McEachern Art Center’s Facebook page.
Black art history has a multitude of facets, all of which intersect into a rich history of creative expression and cultural significance. In celebration of Black History Month, here are three Black creatives to support who push the boundaries of contemporary art. Jacob Lawrence Born Sept. 7, 1917, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Lawrence’s fascination with and career in African American culture and Black individualism began in Harlem. There, he created his first pieces depicting African American visionaries. One of Lawrence’s most notable pieces of work is a series of paintings he produced on Toussaint L’Ouverture, a Haitian general and significant figure in the Haitian Revolution. The series follows L’Ouverture’s life and achievements. Lawrence’s work incorporates bold colors, striking compositions and candid depictions of Black life. His work has been published in Fortune Magazine, and in 1941, his work, “Migration of The Negro,” was exhibited at the Downtown Gallery, an art gallery in New York City. He depicts not only the people he paints, but the heart within the people as well, so his pieces serve as an unfiltered glimpse into the African American self. His work is currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Kerry James Marshall Kerry James Marshall pushed the boundaries of creative expression with his contemporary art pieces in the mid-20th century. Born in 1955 in Birmingham, Alabama, Marshall began painting at a young age. He witnessed the beginnings of both the civil rights movement as well as the Watts Riots, a series of race riots in Los Angeles. These events molded his depiction of life for the Black American, and his work reflects his efforts in interpreting that life. Marshall’s work encompasses the everyday, almost mundane aspects of the Black experience. His most notable piece, “De Style,” depicts Black people cutting hair in a barbershop. He often paints Black complexion with a rich, deep color, creating a stark contrast to the surrounding environment he creates on his canvas. Marshall creates pieces centered around African American life, and, as a result, has made a space for Black art made by Black people about Black people to exist in a space it has not before. His work will be on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Feb. 7. Lorna Simpson Lorna Simpson is a multimedia artist who specializes in vivid photography that accentuates the individuality of the human spirit. Her work challenges the traditional feminine stereotypes by offering a new perspective on identity. Simpson is best known for her pieces surrounding identity politics. With her piece “Five Day Forecast,” Simpson explores the duality between her identity as an artist and her identity as a woman. The piece consists of five portraits of a Black woman in a white dress. The woman’s face has been cropped out of the photos and her arms are crossed. The portraits are of the same woman, taken five different times. Under the photos, multiple words are displayed, all with the prefix “mis” in front of them. Simpson uses this piece specifically to delve into the complex relationship between her identity as an individual with a 9 to 5 job and her identity as an artist. You can view her work here. Black art is an integral part of Black history, and these artists commit to telling Black stories from their perspectives, paving the creative path for future artistic visionaries with their work and ultimately creating a space for artists to explore the nuances of Black culture and identity.
Artist and Mercer University alumna Gwendolyn Payton, presented her art exhibit “The Faith of the Dreamer” at the Plunkett Art Gallery Sept. 25. The exhibit features works from Payton’s college days as well as more recent art pieces. Payton set out to achieve her art degree at Mercer University nearly 50 years ago. She completed all of her courses; however, the university did not allow her to exhibit her senior art show because of the racial tension present in the art department at the time. Now, almost half a century later, Payton’s work is on display at the Plunkett art gallery in Hardeman Hall for all to see as part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ racial reparations for her inability to showcase her art in the past. Payton’s work covers the expansive Plunkett Gallery walls from left to right, each piece a striking composition of bold colors, expressive faces and bright images. Walking into the Plunkett Gallery, there is a portrait of a woman painted in 2013. Adjacent to the painting is a smaller one, the paint slightly chipped and fading in color. The smaller piece is from her college days and was painted in 1971. There is an evident contrast between her pristine, recent art pieces and her older work, accentuating her journey from one canvas to the next, and their dual display closes the gap in her art expedition almost 50 years later. Payton emphasized that her journey to getting her degree has been a long one and described that now is as fitting a time as ever for her to receive her recognition. At her artist talk, Payton recalled how a novel, “The Stem of Jesse” by Will D. Campbell, shares a significant part of Mercer’s history as well as her own. The novel notes many African American students of the 1966 cohort and sheds light of the success those students eventually garnered in their respective careers. “I just want to encourage everyone to learn your own history, to learn the history of your family, the history of your country. One of the things that this book has in it are the people that were here at Mercer when I came to Mercer,” Payton said. “It notes many of them, African Americans, and as I remember it was only 56 African Americans students in a campus of about 5,000 at the time.” Mercer awarded Payton her art degree at her artist talk, righting the wrong her department head committed long ago, and giving her due respect for the culmination of art she curated during her time at Mercer. Payton’s exhibit serves as due reparations for her work as a talented artist and encompasses her revolutionary story as a figurehead in enduring and enacting change through her art. Her exhibit will be on display in the Plunkett Gallery until Oct. 16.
Charvis Harrell has been showcasing the disparaging impact of negative Black stereotypes at his art exhibit, “Cartoon Violence: Elegy and Testimony,” at the McEachern Art Center since Aug. 29. Harrell is a native of East Macon. He began painting in 2004 after he was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. His newest exhibit illuminates the disconnect between African American culture and self identity, and his work features Black public figures from across the decades. Through his art, Harrell strives to dismantle the stereotypes that white North American media has placed on the Black individual and instead highlight Black culture and identity through Black people’s perspectives. “I make art with the purpose of paying tribute to the often overlooked heroes and creating a dialogue in regards to the condition of being Black in America from historical, economic, psychological, social and commercial viewpoints,” Harrell said. Part of his exhibit covers tragedies that have recently happened in the media, including the murders of Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain. His artwork captures the emotional pain, despair and sorrow that accompanies the Black criminality stereotype the media often puts on Black people. “I felt it necessary to have a way to constantly express to my sons the struggle, beauty, pain, joy and complexity it is to be Black in America, and art is my tool for that,” Harrell said. One of Harrell’s most prominent pieces depicts a Black child sitting next to an ink jar. The piece is titled “Surviving Flint” and is especially meaningful to Harrell. “It's important to me because it's a series I made when I first decided to use pallets as a metaphor for Black life in America, and it represents a community of people who have been completely overlooked and neglected, and it's beyond sad that in our country the entire city of Flint can be treated as unfit to be apart of America,” Harrell said. There is a stark duality to Harrell’s work as he showcases a racially insensitive caricature of a Black child and then emphasizes Black autonomy and intelligence in the same piece. Harell also uses different mediums for his pieces. Some of his pieces are done on pristine canvases, while others are on rough, wooden pallets, continuing the juxtaposition of the white gaze in commercial media as opposed to the Black perspective on Black media. Harrell’s work encompasses the Black American identity, and his unique perspective on and interpretation of Black culture makes his pieces riveting works of art that capture the essence of Black American life. The “Cartoon Violence” exhibit will run at the McEachern Art Center until Oct. 16.
Cardi B broke her music hiatus by releasing her new single “WAP” ft. Megan Thee Stallion under Atlanta Records in August of 2020. The song features guest appearances by famous female figures, including Normani, Rosalía, Sukihana, Mulatto and Kylie Jenner. Both Cardi and Megan are familiar with expressing their sexual autonomy through their music. Since 2018, Cardi B has been rapping about her experiences before becoming a public figure, explaining that they keep her humble in her rise to fame. She speaks freely about her days as a stripper and doesn’t shy away from including those narratives in her lyrics. Her EP “Invasion of Privacy” includes multiple tracks that showcase her comfort with sex and her body. Megan The Stallion is also well-versed in conveying her sexual confidence through her music. In 2018 she released her album “Tina Snow,” introducing her alter ego, a raw, unfiltered “pimp” version of Megan. Her discography exhibits her sexual autonomy and her comfort in her skin. Megan is one of the few rappers in her field who not only breaks the stereotype of the short, petite, female musician, but raps about it unabashedly. Looking at the discographies of both musicians, both lyricists are experts when it comes to expressing the sexual liberation of black women. At the very least, these types of lyrics are to be expected from the artists; however, fan responses to the music video were mixed. Some praised Megan and Cardi for their sexually liberating lyrics. Others hated the song, deeming it too provocative. DeAnne Lorraine, a current Congresswoman, had a lot to say about Cardi and Megan’s lyrics, labeling them as “vile” and “disgusting.” Twitter had quite a bit to say about the outfits that Megan and Cardi B sported. Fans criticized their outfits, believing them to be too promiscuous. In the same video, however, Kylie Jenner is praised for sporting similar attire. The double standard that fans give to Kylie Jenner as opposed to Megan Thee Stallion on screen is striking. Fans flooded twitter, policing Cardi and Megan’s outfits while giving Kylie Jenner a pass, and perpetuating misogynoir, the intersectionality of misogyny and race that specifically affects Black women. The term was coined by feminist Moya Bailey, whose idea is perfectly encapsulated by the storm of tweets implying that only Cardi and Megan’s outfits were too raunchy or promiscuous in hopes that the artists will conform to mainstream and “respectable” standards of beauty. Jenner was in a very similar outfit to both Cardi and Megan, yet the responses to their outfits were notably different. Jenner is praised for her 10-second appearance, almost taking the spotlight from Cardi B and Megan. According to Twitter, Jenner flaunting her figure is empowering and encouraged, but Megan displaying her body in the same video warrants criticism and borderline harassment. Despite the mixed responses to “WAP,” Cardi and Megan do not plan to stop displaying their sexual autonomy any time soon. Shortly after the music video release, Megan tweeted about the double standard given to her lyrics vs other male rappers’ lyrics, dismissing the antagonistic fans with a curt “bye lil boy.” Cardi and Megan’s sexual liberation is a part of their brand, and enough fans enjoy the lyrics lamenting their sexual prowess for them to continue telling their stories.