BACK TO BLACK: No On and Off Ramps
Black visual expressions have had many challenges in the past years with renewed assaults on their discourses and representations. Black bodies and lives have also suffered similar fate. The back-and-forth analyses that accompany these challenges are indicative of the kinds of discursive re-positioning that surrounds the conversations.
How has Black art responded to these assaults that currently beset the global African Diaspora? How have artists of African descent created modes of intervention no longer predicated upon legitimization from centered discussions beyond their historic-contemporary experiences? How have they provided a counter-narrative of radical autonomy unfazed by “merely restating the tacit necessity of the place of art in society”?
Confronted with the resurgence of trivialization of African Diaspora experiences, in fact, the idea of Black Art’s intervention in the cultural sphere is both necessary and urgent. At issue, ultimately, is a fundamental difference in the way that the mainstream debates Black art as a novelty that has no connection with African descendants’ lives and experiences. Therein, a framing of conversation in generalities rooted at the antipode of the Black experience.
To attend to these challenges — political, cultural, economic and ethical — BACK TO BLACK: No On and Off Ramps argues for a move beyond the engorged discourses of a “center” that unaware that it is no longer “The Center”, to present productions dedicated to fostering anew, kinds of loci of affiliation. Moving away from the romantic illusion of pure distance and total autonomy of Black art from the Black society, BACK TO BLACK: No On and Off Ramps re-inscribes the imbrication of artistic practice in social temporality.
After all, we can talk all day long about globalization of art, multiculturalism and diversity; the nowadays right of everybody to use Black images as a discursive trope of an Open Casket, but we are left staring in the face the obvious realities of how inequity and oppressive power are manifested then and now through racial designations as in the case of Treyvon Martin and George Zimmerman, the countless recent killings of young blacks and browns at the very hand of the forces that were supposed to guaranty equal protection under the law for all citizens; the bankrupt Islamic fundamentalism that is annihilating African societies on the continent and violence on peoples of African descent throughout Latin and South America.
From the preoccupations above, BACK TO BLACK: No On and Off Ramps is thus conceiving the possibility for another world; not the world put in place by Euro-America imperialism. For Greg Thomas, “this is not the only world that has ever been; it is not necessarily the only world that was and is absolutely certainly not the only world that can ever be!” (Thomas 2004).
Thus, Back to Black is not as a return to a reductive essentialism but rather a pegging to the depth of blackness as a spatial and temporal strategy of resistance insisting on it as the past, present, and future to highlight Black aesthetics’ continuing “time of entanglement”.
Here, the attempt is to think linkages of the political and the imaginary beyond the simplistic valorization of the former and the equally simplistic condemnation of the latter. The two dimensions of the political and the imaginary with its libidinal content have specific figurations in the works by artists assembled in this exhibition because there is no imaginary without a political-sociological context. In Back to Black, the political is not devoid of imaginary investments, while libidinal productions do have their own politics.
Reading the political and the imaginary in art, Tejumola Olaniyan (2004) speaks of a “predicament” from the point of view of public perception of rational politics of mass empowerment and political theorizing in which [Black Arts]’ progressive politics and quest for egalitarian orderliness in political economy finds ground. It is the imaginary and libidinal productions that we need now to sketch out in detail.
Although “political reality is a symbolic construct produced through metaphoric and metonymic processes around points de capiton and empty meanings, it nevertheless depends on fantasy to reconstruct itself …” (Stavrakakis, 1999). However, BACK TO BLACK: No On and Off Ramps clarifies that political reality also needs fantasy not only to constitute, but to ever and perpetually reconstitute itself. If the imaginary is this significant to the scheduling and reordering of politics, then ultimately what is at stake in the visual productions of Black peoples is not so much its opposition to politics and imagination, but rather the kind of exercises of the imaginary. These exercises, though ideologically unpleasant, are after all salutary in their inflexible rupturing of the boundaries of hegemonic norms.