Lynette Yiadom-Boakye Paints It Black At The New Museum

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"Vigil For A Horseman" (2017) by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye


To walk in to British artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s current exhibition at the New Museum is to leave the downtown institution and enter an impressively elegant party. The reveal happens as soon as you exit the museum’s twin elevators: The loft-like gallery is painted burgundy; the lighting inside the space is nightclub-moody; beyond the visitors’ heads more than a dozen painted figures are visible — hung so low that they directly meet the viewer’s gaze. Though these are portraits of entirely fictional people, they remain the folks in the room you most want to meet.

Standing, sitting, or lying down, Yiadom-Boakye’s figures look back at the viewer with uncommon self-assurance. They are the contemporary kin of the popes, kings, and queens painted by Old Masters and proto-Modernists from Velázquez to Joshua Reynolds to Édouard Manet. Up-to-date portraits that recall the stoicism of Renaissance martyrs, they also channel the secular saints of the African diaspora. There’s the self-possession of a James Baldwin–like figure seated at a café table, the steely mettle of Shirley Chisholm in an unidentified woman’s set jaw, the youthful worldliness of Lorraine Hansberry in a strapping ballerina’s arabesque.

Not so much looking back in anger as encountering the world confidently, Yiadom-Boakye’s mysterious yet familiar figures exude that one thing all convincing human representations throughout history possess — formal presence. Their elegant bearing grows significantly in stature when contrasted starkly with the historical absence of black faces and bodies during some five centuries of European painting.

The first solo U.S. museum show for Britain’s 2013 Turner Prize contender in seven years (the last was at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2010), Yiadom-Boakye’s current outing is a mini-blockbuster that is major in every way except for the number of works on view. Made especially for the New Museum, the seventeen paintings included in the exhibition (one is a triptych) come together like a plotless yarn, or what the French call nouveau roman (think Alain Robbe-Grillet’s novel La Jalousie). Pictures of imaginary people the artist composites from drawings, magazine clippings, and her own memories, her likenesses rely on the viewer to complete their storylines. The exhibition’s title, “Under-Song for a Cipher,” underscores Yiadom-Boakye’s oblique vision: Like all portraits, hers are grounded in history, yet they ultimately function as a magnet for the viewer’s associative filings.

The daughter of Ghanaian parents who moved to London in the Sixties to work as nurses for the National Health Service, the now 39-year-old Yiadom-Boakye underwent the routinely alienating experience of being both black and a child of immigrants in the U.K. After discarding a childhood interest in optometry — “the science got in the way,” she told one interviewer — she took up art, eventually finding her way to painting: a different but related study of visual phenomena. On receiving a graduate degree from London’s Royal Academy, the artist was tapped for her career-firing debut at the Studio Museum. Numerous presentations in biennials, institutions, and galleries (as well as prizes) followed. On the evidence, few match the concision and coherence of the artist’s current display at the New Museum.

Arranged around the wine-colored walls of the museum’s large fourth-floor gallery, Yiadom-Boakye’s work offers an encyclopedic sweep of historical portraiture, but with a pantheon of sensuous black figures depicted against neutral backdrops instead of the usual Caucasian suspects. Her habit of posing her imaginary subjects in isolation against monochrome grounds summons the standing portraits of James McNeill Whistler; the half-dozen pictures of dancers in leotards, though mostly male, strongly evoke the ballerinas of Edgar Degas; and the Brit artist’s loose brushwork, simplification of details, and penchant for leaving key parts of her paintings unresolved recall the no-frills canvases of Manet — the nineteenth century’s “painter of modern life.” Yiadom-Boakye’s paintings are so pared-down, in fact, they resemble a remark ascribed to Manet: “There are no lines in nature, only areas of color, one against the other.”

Completed mostly in a day and without the benefit (or hindrance) of disegno — the substrate of drawing that undergirds traditional portrait paintings — Yiadom-Boakye’s pictures combine spare but bravura brushwork and a restrained palette full of various shades of brown into a style that has been described by supporters as “improvised and effortless, even virtuoso.” Additionally, the artist actively uses her Old Master–ish manner, which critic Robert Storr refers to in the exhibition catalog as “the warm amber-to-sepia glow of aged pictures about which many commentators wax poetic,” as cover for further racial ghostbusting. The representation of skin in Yiadom-Boakye’s portraits notably runs from light to dark brown. This “mixed race” palette encourages viewers of all hues to see not just the oppositions associated with Otherness, but difference within difference.

Yet it’s certain first-rate painterly passages in Yiadom-Boakye’s simple-seeming, unfinished-looking canvases that best materialize her work’s powerful ambiguity. If, in the artist’s own words, her titles function less as an explanation than “an extra mark in the paintings,” then key portions of thinly painted canvases like An Amber Cluster and 8am Cadiz court enigma, shadowed by the history of representation, with an expert hand. The first painting, for instance, features a black dancer whose wide-collared orange shirt incorporates the chevrons of the canvas’s weave, while the second reprises a barefoot, forward-facing, brotherman take on Andrew Wyeth’s 1948 painting Christina’s World. In Yiadom-Boakye’s coolly ironic version, the eyes, nose, and mouth of the picture’s male subject are strangely illuminated by white flashes of exposed canvas.

A third work, Vigil for a Horseman, consists of three paintings that feature two black males attired in black tops and red tights lounging atop a red-and-white-striped bed and a black-and-blue diamond-patterned cushion. A tour de force of patterned color and painterly restraint, the triptych and its absurd title propose a uniquely timely rationale for making finely calibrated pictures of black figures. Painted without the usual visual markers that might indicate a historical signature or social and cultural origins (which we know to be fictional), the figures exist in an allegorically retroactive space — a present where work like this, and that of other leading black artists, can aspire to self-invent a visual canon.

To paraphrase Baldwin, the story of the black figure in art is the story of what’s missing in art — it is not a pretty story. In this lushly vibrant exhibition, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye updates art’s oldest medium with an expert hand and a bracingly new message.


Posted by The NON-Conformist


Celebrating Black History Month: Romare Bearden

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Image: NCpedia

Romare Bearden was born in Charlotte in 1911. Although his family moved north when he was only four years old, he said of his home state, “Most artists take some place, and like a flower, they sink roots, looking for universal implications. . . . My roots are in North Carolina.” Indeed, many of his paintings and collages were drawn from memories of his time in North Carolina.

The Beardens eventually settled in Harlem, an epicenter of African American culture in the 1920’s. Harlem society was important to Bearden’s development—the young man met many prominent musicians, artists, and writers at social and intellectual gatherings. In 1935 Bearden graduated from New York University and gained employment as a caseworker for the New York City Department of Social Services, a job he would hold until 1969.

Romare Bearden, The Visitation, 1941…Source: National Gallery of Art


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Are We Slighting Black Women By Celebrating the NWA Biopic? –

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“Straight Outta Compton” is having great success and surprising many as it rakes in nearly $60 million during its opening weekend. While the movie is riding on its theatrical high, there are some pretty low downsides for Black women.

In Kimberly Foster’s Black Women Are Never Priority: N.W.A, the Politics of Misogyny and My Battered Body she brought up a valid point about the discussion of N.W.A. “One of the most discomforting truths about living as a Black woman is that there is no safety from said violence. Those who continue to profit from it spread the lie that being “good” offers protection. It’s the kind of falsehood people like 46-year-old Ice Cube perpetuate when they speak of “bitches,” “hoes,” “despicable females,” and “upstanding ladies.”

Before groups like N.W.A. hit the scene, hip hop as a genre was far less negative than it is today, especially lyrics regarding women. But at some point venting about racism, violence, gangs and drugs was intertwined with disrespecting our Black women. And while the murder of Black men seem to be (and rightfully so) the focal point of racist acts of violence such as police brutality, the misogyny woven in the lyrics of gangsta rap and hip hop terrorizes Black women and is never really confronted.
“The trouble is there are few real consequences for unmitigated misogyny,” Foster writes. ” Ice Cube can still call women “bitches” and “hoes” and Dre can still produce woman-hating music. Their legacies will not suffer.”

In many ways, writing lyrics about abusing and objectifying women is just as compromising as writing lyrics about killing people of your own ethnicity. It kinda makes you wonder if these negative concepts about women can ever be forgotten when a biopic about a pioneer group that started these concepts, and gangsta rap that promotes them, hits the big screen.
The next time you sing along to an N.W.A. song, listen to the lyrics. How can we as Black people strive together for equality as a community when we ourselves reduce our women to “b*tches” and “hoes?”

By Joshua D. Copeland

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Honoring the Legacy of Norma Merrick Sklarek: The ‘Rosa Parks of Architecture’

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Image: Atlanta Blackstar

The year was 1928. It was the year that the world saw the first fully air-conditioned office building open, Amelia Earhart make her first Atlantic Ocean flight and the last recording of Ma Rainey, “Mother of Blues.”

That same year in Harlem, where wealthy residents of color were becoming land owners, Dr. Walter Ernest Merrick and Amy Merrick’s child, Norma Merrick Sklarek, was born. Their daughter would later make history as the first female Black architect. Little did they know how impactful the 1928 earmarking of 640 acres of land by the Los Angeles City Council for a new airport would be to Sklarek, until 58 years later when her completed design on the historic Terminal One for the landmark Los Angeles International Airport was unveiled.

“Until the end of World War II, I think there was strong discrimination against women in architecture. The schools had a quota, it was obvious, a quota against women and a quota against blacks. In architecture, I had absolutely no role model. I’m happy today to be a role model for others that follow,” Sklarek said.

Known as the “Rosa Parks of Architecture,” Norma Merrick Sklarek was born to a father from St. Vincent and a mother from Barbados. Raised as an African-American woman with West Indian heritage, her father is credited with urging the young Merrick to interest herself in nontraditional leisure activities like fishing and assisting him with housework.

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Cleveland Anchor Returns to Television after On-air Racial Slur

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A week after making national headlines by using a racially offensive term on the air, Kristi Capel returned to WJW Channel 8’s morning newscast. And it was a business-as-usual 4:30-10 a.m. Monday run for the Cleveland anchor.


Image: Plain Dealer


“Good morning, everyone, I’m Kristi Capel,” were the familiar words heard as the newscast kicked off at 4:30. She then introduced a story about snow-plow operators, settling back into her anchor chair on the Channel 8 news set.

Owned by Tribune Media Group, the Cleveland Fox affiliate pulled Capel from the morning news for three days. She was missing from the station’s Studio A for last week’s Wednesday-Friday newscasts, although Channel 8 executives did not confirm whether this was an actual suspension, paid or unpaid. Stacey Frey filled in for Capel.

Capel ignited an Internet firestorm after using the word “jigaboo,” a derogatory term for African-Americans, while praising Lady Gaga’s performance at the 87th Academy Awards. She apologized to Channel 8 viewers during last Tuesday’s morning newscast.

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Stevie Wonder Speaks Out About Ferguson, Eric Garner and Gun Control

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"Bill cosby 1969" by William Morris AgencyUploaded by We hope at en.wikipedia - eBay itemphoto front photo backTransferred from en.wikipedia by SreeBot. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

“Bill cosby 1969” by William Morris Agency Uploaded by We hope at en.wikipedia – eBay item photo front photo back Transferred from en.wikipedia by SreeBot. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

It’s been a slow death for the legend of Bill Cosby. As allegations of sexual assault — decades-old claims that are now being treated with appropriate gravity — envelop the 77-year-old Cosby, it’s easy to forget it’s been nearly 20 years since the Autumn Jackson trial showed us that America’s Dad might have been a lot more like a deadbeat than you realized. That was before social media, so her attempt to extort money from Cosby so she wouldn’t tell the world about his affair with her mother (and her claim that he was her father) vanished from mainstream memory.

Anyone who pretends to be incapable of believing he could do anything wrong is lying. Even if he wasn’t Jackson’s father, Cosby must’ve noticed the smoke from the fire that had been set to his pristine image. But the only person striking a match in public was a woman who seemed unhinged, and that was enough for many to ignore something few wished to consider: the possibility that Bill Cosby was a fraud.

It’s a lot harder to ignore 15 women, though, even if we don’t know very much about whether or not Cosby is a sexual predator. Sexual assault is a crime that few women claim falsely, but few isn’t none, and a certain presumption of innocence is responsible, even if it isn’t required. But the breadth and sheer volume of these allegations make it difficult to afford Cosby the benefit of the doubt for any reason other than obligation. Some of those women may be lying, but the likelihood that they all – 15 women and counting – are is asymptotically approaching zero. That small chance is enough to keep him out of jail, but not enough for reasonable people to dismiss.

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