while looking for barbara’s review of shin yu pai’s EQUIVALENCE, i found this page of reviews of pai’s work.
check out francisco aragon at men of the web. one of the most selfless and generous people in the poetry community.
gary left another interesting comment regarding satire and racialized images:
My take on the Tripwire 6 cover is similar to my take on the New Yorker cover, to the artwork of Michael Ray Charles, to the work of South African comics artists Joe Dog and Conrad Botes (whose work, by the way, I did bring in to my global satire workshop).
All use inflammatory or potentially hurtful imagery–and all of them have used this imagery on covers of books or collections–as part of larger projects that addresses, foreground, study, and critique, racism.
As I said in my initial blog post about the NYer cover, I balked at reading that issue on the subway.
I would feel the same way about reading this book about Michael Ray Charles’ art on the subway as well, or for that matter, Dog and Botes’ Bitterkomix, or that issue of Tripwire. (If you do a Google Image search for Tin Tin in the Congo (without quotes), you’ll see several panels similar to the one used on Tripwire.)
Part of my reason for balking is for the reasons you bring up: I know the images are going to be initially viscerally experienced, and they are hurtful. The other, purely selfish reason, is that I don’t want to court anger in a person who doesn’t know, for instance, who Michael Ray Charles is, or what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. While that could lead to an interesting discussion, it could just as easily never reach that point.
Would I personally use imagery like this for a cover of my own work? No, and especially not after reading about the NAACP and Governor Paterson condemning Blitt and Remnick. Mainly because I don’t want to find myself in that position.
My feelings about whether or not it’s a mistake for others to use this kind of imagery are less cut-and-dry. Charles has been criticized quite a bit for his work, and for the reasons that you give, that his images are viscerally experienced and hurtful as the very thing he’s attempting to critique. The fact that he is African-American doesn’t matter to those who argue that he shouldn’t be working with this imagery in the first place.
Take a look at this painting, which is fairly typical of his work. It seems plausible that this image alone is going to upset a good number of people—maybe even most who see it. (For those who felt the NYer cover didn’t go far enough, imagine it, or something more like it, on the cover instead).
Is it failed artwork if it upsets people? What if it upsets more people than it enlightens? Should Charles abandon working with this kind of imagery—or “smash the mirror,” as you put it?
Those aren’t rhetorical questions—I don’t know the answer.
And this brings up even more philosophical questions about art and what it ought to be doing, what it ought to use in doing it, how it ought to do it. And whether or not art and artists can evolve, if that’s a good word, beyond the need, if that’s a good word, to engage the viewer with the world as it is and/or was. Can the present be fully engaged without reference to the past, and can our future be engaged without reference to the present? And will audiences, the world, evolve with it?
“Is it failed artwork if it upsets people?”
the fact that a piece of art upsets people does not make it failed artwork. but what does it say about Blitt that his work upset people he didnt anticipate upsetting? i think the artist failed more than the art, in this case. but even tho the NYer cover failed to provide a substantial critique of its targets, it didn’t fail in its intention to “hold up a mirror”. tho i guess it depends on what we mean by failed.
“What if it upsets more people than it enlightens?”
if the art was meant to enlighten but upsets people instead, then clearly the artwork failed (to enlighten).
“Should Charles abandon working with this kind of imagery—or “smash the mirror,” as you put it?”
i don’t think any artist should ever abandon what interests them. but i would think that Blitt might learn from this experience and revise how he handles racialized imagery in his work. change and experiment is always good it seems.
i want to ask, tho, if folks would comment on the differences / similarities between this painting by Michael Ray Charles (that Gary linked to in his comment) and the NYer cover.