Imitation of Life at HOME
It is rare that exhibitions focus exclusively on the black experience but Imitation of Life: Melodrama and Race in the 21st Century challenges perpetuated and expected images surrounding black men and women. Taking on racial politics in the ever evolving, post-digital culture.
Many artists have chosen to confront the fluid politics of representation and race by opening new spaces and possibilities based on old constructs. As you walk into the gallery, Kevin Beasley’s Untitled (Fades/Violas) hits you as a strong yet beautiful blockade. The sphere is built with everyday African American dress but has been completely altered in a way that works against any expected racial stereotypes. There are many successful pieces in the exhibit that signify blackness as a different construct. However, this exhibit relies heavily on film. These pieces do not examine the performance aspects surrounding blackness but rather play into every shock value stereotype imaginable.
Using six separate films, the artists continue to alter the images of black men and women in media as a means to highlight the power of both image and language on screen.
The 2013 film, Ditch Plains follows a group of self-taught performers called the Ringmaster Crew. The New York based dancers perform sporadically throughout battered streets that have been hit by hurricane Katrina, illustrating how race is performed through abstract bodies in the 21st century.
Race as a performance is seen in S1:E1 as a way to perpetuate stereotypes in comedy. The video focuses on the making of a black women's situation comedy called She Mad. Using clips of shows such as Oprah and Girlfriends to suggest that these images are dominated by problematic representations.
However, through new media many black artists have chosen to create their own content. The artists concern appears dated as most comedies rely on archetypal characters and YouTube is now awash with popular, independent black comedy shows from productions such as Issa Rae and BLACK&SEXY.TV.
Art Thoughtz: How To Be A Successful Black Artist continues to ask how African American identity is performed. The film shows a white actor inhabiting racial stereotypes in order to displace them. The piece claims to recognising ‘blackness’ as a role conferred by a history of discrimination, yet many of the videos perpetuate these traditions. They insult the creators by creating their own parody but do not look into how we move past these images.
In an effort to open a dialogue for reinvention, Larry Achiampong’s Glyth presents a series of six digitally manipulated family photographs that depict ‘cloudface’ figures similar to ‘Gollywogs’. His portraits are a critique on how The Other is often misrepresented, whilst being a complete appropriation of an offensive image. Much like the adoption of the N-word, ‘cloudface’ fights against the original image but does not take on a new reality.
Despite culture evolving, the past, present and future of race relations in the United States is as dishevelled as Tony Lewis’ distressed letters; they lack clarity, are open to interpretation but always provoke a reaction.
This exhibition is running from the 30th April until the 2nd July.