Blake: or; The Huts of America by Martin R. Delany
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book was recommended during the past Black History Month as an answer to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, written at the same time by a Black author. (And since I have never read UTC, I’ll be reading it too.) While I’ve heard the generalization and read a couple examples that slaves weren’t passively waiting to be freed, this novel of the late 1850s reinforces that point all the way through. Henry Holland (becomes Henry Blake about 2/3 into the novel) is working on his own freedom and that of others all the way through.
The novel has two narratives, the first being Henry’s travels through mostly southern states with a plan (we are never told the plan) and his encouraging resourcefulness and resistance. The second tells Henry’s experiences in Cuba. The first gets tedious, but it is worth continuing. For the second, I was glad to have read Cuba: An American History first, though it isn’t essential to understanding what is happening. There are endnotes most of which provide historical analogues and identify characters with historical figures; after the history they indicate sources. I found myself checking them more often than I sometimes do, and they were useful. Though the two narratives are connected, they don’t seem integrated into a whole. Some scenes seem to be there only to illustrate some aspect of slavery, and some conversations to illustrate ideas. When questioned, Henry convinces all too easily. The editor says, “[Delany’s] only fictional effort marks the artistic epitome of a social and political position–that is, the creative offering of an activist rather than the political expressions of an artist” (xiii). Still it is important reading.
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Category Archives: social issues
Blake: or; The Huts of America by Martin R. Delany
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In the past I was part of a cross-racial discussion where the term “white fragility” appeared. From the context I determined it meant a defensive reaction, a lack of listening. Learning that this book was the origin of the phrase led me to reading it. And I learned it meant much more than defensiveness. It includes denial along with defensiveness and has the effect of stopping the discussion/analysis of racism. It involves keeping the racist system we are socialized into in place. Or as Diangelo puts it, the mention of racism disrupts the system and the fragility response restores equilibrium.
Important to the discussion is an understanding of racism as systemic rather than individual acts; as a system, it is something we are socialized into, often unconsciously. Understanding that socialization divorces “racism” from something a bad person does. Being free of seeing ourselves as bad people when exhibiting racism frees us from the need to deny it. Rather we can listen, process the information, and work to change.
Because I had had previous exposure to concepts of social construction of identity and power structures and their perpetuation, I could quickly get into Diangelo’s argument. Someone not so exposed might have to work harder to understand and accept it. Might need more discussion, explanation, and examples. I had also previous understandings of a part being considered the norm from my studies of sexism–I especially remember a study where healthy male and healthy humans were the same; healthy women were defined differently. So it was easy to follow the discussion of how whiteness becomes normal human.
All of those concepts are necessary to understanding the rest of Diangelo’s discussion of “white fragility,” our resistance to seeing ourselves able to do and say things that have racist impact and to see the need to interrupt the perpetuation process.
I can only hope that in a real life situation, that if someone offers the comment that I’ve said/done something with racist impact I can remember to say , “Thank you” instead of resisting the information. And learn.
I recently signed up for Elizabeth Barton’s “More Abstract Art for Quilters” through the Academy of Quilting, and it has been fascinating. It moves quickly, so I am gathering potential projects.
Most likely I will not make all of them.
I like this one but I don’t see myself making all those circles out of fabric. Maybe someday if I run out of other ideas I could do it as fused applique or reverse applique. Time will tell. That was the first week.
The second week involved making grids.
This project at least has straight seams. The top grid was deemed stronger; the bottom one had the major flaw of being split in half horizontally. Multiple assignments followed. Do several value studies for the top one; crop the bottom one into something useful and do value studies. But before I got to that, Lesson 3 came along. So this one moved into the potential folder.
Of course there have also been comments about and links to observe well known abstract artists–totally fascinating. The third lesson involved watching Mondrian’s path to increasing abstraction and the assignment to follow similar steps from a photo we had taken. So far I have only the photos to ponder.
The car wasn’t there when I composed the shot, LOL. And I will just ignore it as I work with this photo –if it is the photo I choose to work with.
I lean to working with this one.
That ends thoughts on art quilts for today; continue reading if you are interested in the photos of torii. I was attending a Vanport Mosaic event, and they are located at the site as well as integral to the weekend.
It is Vanport Mosaic weekend, a time of memory activism. The story of Vanport is not well known, and the Mosaic project’s purpose is to unearth and perpetuate minority stories that have been silenced. The Vanport story is a story of race relations, some successes and some failures. The town of Vanport was constructed by Henry Kaiser because he needed housing for workers he had attracted from all over the US for his shipyards during World War II, and Portland was dragging its feet because many of the people coming in were African American or poor. The housing was segregated, but schools, work, and entertainment were integrated. Since families worked shifts, there was 24/7 daycare provided.
After the war, there was less need for workers. White workers moved into Portland, an option not available to black workers. Others moved into the vacated homes, they included veterans, Native Americans, and Japanese, who were returning from the concentration camps where they had been sent during the war. The torii are a memorial to the Japanese experience, an experience that is another major feature of the weekend.
Memorial Day, 1948, Vanport was flooded. Residents had about an hour to evacuate with what they could carry. The town was totally destroyed. (For those interested in more, here is a link to the online Oregon Encyclopedia entries on Vanport, and here for the Japanese incarceration.)
The Mosaic project includes gathering stories from folks who lived there and filming them. The day, an annual event, includes showing the films, other exhibits related to the town, the flood, and the imprisonment. Often classroom projects are shown. This year one was from a human geography course with proposals for a more visible memorial than what exists.
Unless I get a lot accomplished on this week’s assignment and post again, I’ll link this post to Nina-Marie’s Off the Wall Friday (button in sidebar).
6/1/2019–ETA: Today was a play, Gambette, about the Japanese experience. Here, from an exhibit in the lobby, is a photo of an enlarged tag like those required to be on each person and item of property.
These are memorialized in the rows of metal tags on the torii sculptures.
Midweek I was at the Multnomah Arts Center (Portland, OR) to view the current exhibit of the Soul Box Project. Since I didn’t get any overall photo, here is one of their photos of the whole:
This installation includes 15,000 Soul Boxes, one for each person killed or injured by gunfire in the US since the beginning of 2019, and panels from the Vision Quilt. In addition to memorializing people harmed by guns, both projects speak to gun safety.
A sample Soul Box
And a sample Vision Quilt panel
This panel drawing is from the youngest participant.
Both projects seek to include both gun owners and non-owners. The Vision Quilt Project emphasizes increased dialogue, and the Soul Box Project seeks to increase awareness of the problem by making its magnitude visible.
There were panels where all the boxes had a theme–remembering individuals from a mass shooting, remembering individuals killed or injured on a single day, for example–and panels with more random arrangements, memorializing individuals and expressing thoughts about guns. Some boxes remain plain, representing an anonymous victim.
There is a table with origami paper and instructions so visitors can pause and make boxes. There are instructions on the Soul Box website for others to make and send boxes. Earlier in the year 36,000 boxes were taken to Salem, Oregon’s state capitol. The goal is 200,000 to be taken to Washington in 2020; they have 50,000 to date.
ETA a comment about numbers: Numbers are taken from the Gun Violence Archive, a website begun in 2014 and considered reliable by Media Bias/Fact Check. Installations use a variety of statistics, as in the Salem event using 2018 numbers and this one using 2019. (I imagine the 200,000 goal relates to anticipated total from 2014-2020, but I didn’t do the math.)
Every time I stroll from the MAX stop at Pioneer Place to Pioneer Courthouse Square I am amused by the sculptures along Morrison Street. This time I took photos.
I imagine the beavers and ducks reference OSU and OU mascots; I don’t know of any sport significance to sea lions. I do know the sea lions are a feature of coastal towns, in some cases overrunning certain piers.
Pioneer Courthouse Square is the site of many events: festivals, political rallies, craft markets, and sand sculptures among others. This week it hosted an exhibit produced by Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, MSF).
Visitors are greeted, given a refugee identity (mine was a Syrian asylum seeker), then ushered through the various exhibits by an MSF volunteer. The tent pictured above housed a 360-degree video of variousl refugee camps and in some cases modes of transportation as if we were in the train or truck.
A more specific transportation exhibit allowed us to sit in a small boat made for 8 and imagine 20 or more in it as we listened to the benefits and trials of the various options.
The hour-long tour of the exhibit increased my understanding of the physical hazards refugees face as well as political challenges met by various category of people fleeing. Nor are all countries signatories of the UN declaration. Those who are must provide basic needs of refugees; others are under no obligation. And it expanded my understanding of MSF: previously I’d envisioned only field hospital type medicine rather than the holistic care of refugee needs.
If you are in Portland, the exhibit is up till 5 pm Sunday in its west coast travels.
More information on the exhibit here (with a nice photo of Pioneer Courthouse Square) here.
More information on MSF here.
Sometimes a blog post is a way to place a marker for articles I want to refer back to later. This is one of those.
People who have read this blog for a while know of my interest in abstract design. A short look back for new followers: This was my first attempt (ignoring the fact that most traditional quilts are abstract).
It started with a photograph of my street. (Its history, reverse order, starts here.)
Then there was “Hole in the Safety Net,” which started as mere shapes and evolved into concept.
And was helped by title to make a statement beyond what mere shapes could say. Its history is here along with a link to the finished product.
Enough background. On to the articles.
The first responds to an exhibit of abstract works of 12 black female artists and tells of their struggle to be recognized in a white male art world, a world where even black art critics considered abstract art to be white art. “Women of Color Find Their Rightful Place in the History of American Abstraction. ”
The second does two things. It places black artists firmly in both abstract and political (racial in this context) camps and makes a profound statement about race: “How to Embed a Shout: A New Generation of Black Artists Contends with Racism.”
And the statement: “Adrienne Edwards, curator at Performa, the Walker Art Center, and a scholar who has written a good deal about Pendleton’s work, professes: ‘Blackness is the original abstraction; people are living abstractions, meaning [they are] made up, conjured.’ Yes. I have to agree. For others, this sign of dark skin might symbolize anything and its opposite: strength, weakness, triumph, and debacle, membership or exile. The racial imaginary conditions all of us raised under its auspices to project onto black people one’s fears or desires, so that it becomes difficult to be seen as a human being rather than a space for projection. Lowery Stokes Sims, a curator and former director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, adds the historical fact: ‘If you take the track that abstraction came out of African art, then we are just claiming our birthright.’
“Blackness is the original abstraction”: think on that . . .
And yes, I remember that I promised to do the whiteness syllabus (here); it is still on the back burner where my subconscious can work on it while I finish up a few other projects.
For me the most profound part of that weekend was sitting in the park across from the White House observing the annual moment of silence concurrent with the people of Hiroshima at exactly the time, their time, the bomb had fallen..
That moment has been surpassed by this year’s installation, Suspended Moment. It’s the first time I’ve attended an installation enacted and not just one in a museum with a continual loop video. The artist, a third generation Hiroshima survivor, made a sculpture, a cloth version, to size, of Fat Man, the Nagasaki bomb. She made it from silk from her grandmother’s kimono studio and stitched her hair into it to meld the generations.
The installation, lasted half an hour. The action was a poem read at the beginning and end that consisted of words from Obama’s speech at Hiroshima. Single words. First in English then in Japanese, as chanted dialog, each word repeated several times. The two walking toward each other, then together, then apart. “Mirror.” “Suffering.” “We look.” “We survive,” “We survive fear.” (I don’t remember them all.) In between a butoh dance (somewhat like mime). In the Q and A afterwards, the choreographer said he’d aimed to create moments rather than a narrative, moments like combing hair, putting on lipstick. And there were more obvious moments of fear.
I finished this one first –you know the old ploy, do an easy finish first to get your energy going. And small meant it would finish quickly. It took a while to get a photograph, and in the process I learned how to change the number of pixels. I also learned I could find the number of pixels via iPhoto, and when I did, I barely had enough. So no change was necessary.
You might notice a change from the previous “finished” top. It measured less than the required minimum of 20 inches in each direction. So the partial border on the right side. In some ways it completes the look, so it is an error that helped the design. Perhaps it also helps the theme by stopping the flight of the last piece of the prohibition sign.
After reading Elizabeth Barton’s post about artist statements, I ponder how much I should say about what I was trying: in her thinking, if it has to be said, I didn’t accomplish it. I’m not sure how I feel about this. As a viewer, I know I’ve had my interest in a piece expanded by an artist’s statement (both in quilt art and paint art). Maybe that just means I am an unsophisticated viewer.
Caution aside. The Threads of Resistance call was for pieces expressing anger at an action of #45 or sadness about a loss caused by his actions. I chose to express anger at deregulation and all the harm it would do to the environment. (I’m curious–to what extent do you see anger or not?) In addition, when looking at it, I kept seeing hints of the traditional block, Moon over the Mountain. And I thought that too fits if you think of the loss caused by mountain top removal for cheaper, easier mining of coal–a precursor to today’s more intense deregulation. All we have left of some of those mountains is a trace, if that. I did not put the idea there; I saw it there.
Then there are ideas I neither put there nor saw there. As one comment on the finished top suggested: it actually shows freedom. In that case the mood would not be anger but exuberance. (Once again, what feeling does it make you feel, if any?) And I am reminded of grad school discussions of Paradise Lost: Is Satan the hero regardless of Milton’s intent?
And there is the problem of titles. In an abstract piece, do I want to direct/limit interpretations by the suggestiveness of my titles? As a viewer, I resent titles like “Untitled” or “Red dots on green squares.” Yet doesn’t anything more specific start to direct the viewer to see in a certain way (or to realize what is missing if the artist failed)? Is an appropriate title “Deregulation” or “In the Eye of the Beholder” or “Red on Blue”? to what extent is a title a limitation? An expansion?
These are not rhetorical questions: I invite discussion.
This detail photo captures most of the quilting variation: micro stippling in the inner circle reminiscent of the old atomic bomb shelter symbol’s triangles, miniature prohibition signs tossed around, and then more generic wavy lines and straight lines. The mottled aqua, not shown here, is quilted with a moderate sized meander.
I recently read that there were 500 entries, and they don’t yet know how many their venues can hold since the list of venues is not complete. So my chances of getting into the show are barely better than to get a quilt into QuiltCon. But as the director of Quilt National said, “Every quilt in the show was entered.”
I’ve seen one other quilt entered, my friend Mary’s at Zippy Quilts. Do have a look at her quite different approach to the theme. I am hoping for a photo gallery on the Artists’ Circle’s Threads of Resistance blog.
I plan to link with Nina Marie’s Off the Wall Friday (button in sidebar).
Preliminary sketches made
The call for entries (now concluded)
5/14/17 ETA link to see all the entries
I have been exploring quilting as art; I have been exploring art as protest; I have been exploring racism and whiteness. Into that mix comes the challenge to Make a work of art about race as a white person in America.
Not a challenge to a single work nor to a juried show, but a syllabus for personal reflection manifested (or not) in art production. A way of rethinking traditional art about race.
Instead of waiting till I have an idea to post, I am posting now in case some of my readers also want to do this exploration. Some of you are not in America; some of you are not white. I leave it to you to explore/make art that fits your situation.
6/6/17 ETA links to a different art installation and issues of representation as it relates to “Scaffold” at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The articles tell the intent and the unintended impact and the removal of the piece. And several responses of art critics.
The first article and a quotation from it.:
The issue of the identity of the artist presenting work about a trauma that is not her or his own recalls the recent controversy around Dana Schultz’s painting of Emmet Till in the 2017 Whitney Biennial. Schutz was criticized for depicting a historic trauma and creating an abstracted portrait of Till’s corpse. Schutz’s work was partly criticized for seeking to represent African American trauma, which many people considered problematic coming from a white woman. Both controversies bring up questions about whether or not white artists can create work about the pain of communities they do not belong to, and whose voices should be elevated to speak about the atrocities of our history.
The second article and a quotation from it:
At the same press conference, Viso admitted that the Walker’s process in placing “Scaffold” in the Garden had been flawed. “I apologize that we were not sufficiently aware of the implications of its placement or sympathetic to the pain and suffering that it would elicit,” she said. The disconnect that left both the artist and the Walker oblivious to the sculpture’s potentially painful meaning for Dakota and Native people speaks to the need for Native people to tell their own stories, as many Native critics have pointed out over the last two weeks.
“We need to tell our own narrative,” Rafael Gonzales, an anti-Dakota Access Pipeline activist and a descendent of the Dakota 38 +2, said in an email. “If non-Native allies are willing to teach our history, it is crucial that they spend time with our people and consult with us on appropriate ways of doing so.”
And the comments of art critics.
Perhaps the bottom line is to listen and consult when tempted to represent another culture. Or as in the first “syllabus,” to focus on one’s own culture.
6/27/17 ETA a link to a counter argument. To what extent is
Endeavoring to make art from another person’s pain isn’t the same as cultural appropriation, but such pursuits, as generally conceived today, share a relationship to notions of identity-based ownership—of certain histories, certain cultural expressions. But while a different culture’s history shouldn’t be declared categorically off-limits to an artist, there are meaningful questions of quality, context, understanding, power, and purpose to be considered—and, along those lines, each work of art must be evaluated on its own terms.
Just why isn’t it appropriation? Perhaps I need a more nuanced understanding of “appropriation.” The question isn’t answered in the review of the novel. But articles are cited, articles and books that I need to read because they deal with abstract art and social critique. Though applied to African American art, it seems they could be extended to all abstract art. All this in a review of a novel by Percival Everett, So Much Blue. I will admit to having read none of his work, but now I want to. More to ponder.