A Piece of Hate Cake Revisited…

April 18, 2012

For the most part, the Swedish minstrel cake and the event surrounding it sparked mass outrage. However, today articles and opinions have surfaced, suggesting that the artist Makode Aj Linde did not intend on the cake being the final work of “art”, but rather the scene as a whole as the final work, giving harsh critique and commentary on racism in Europe and the West’s quickness to jump on pointing out oppression in Africa without full knowledge and insight. People amongst this camp are praising Linde for his brave and provocative success of exposing this modern-day colonialist mindset.

Writing for Africa is a Country, John Palme acclaims, “It’s a brilliant staging of structural racism and post-colonial existence.”

Giving Linde credit as a master puppeteer, Jonathan Pitts-Wiley wrote for Ebony, “I saw something powerful and heartbreaking unfold in this gallery. The celebrants and revelers at the exhibit were merely unwitting–but abundantly willing–performers in Linde’s play. The cake was not for their delight. The wails he let forth as the cake was cut into was not for their amusement. Linde wasn’t enjoying the moment, making light of a brutal history; indeed, his presence served to shame them, to shame them for partaking in something so distasteful as a cake representing the countless girls and women who have been brutalized. They should have been outraged. They should have been disgusted, haranguing for the cake and the artist to be removed immediately. But they weren’t. Rather than recoil in horror and outrage at the sight of such a cake or the sound of such screams, the men and women in attendance–The West–ate and chitchatted and snapped pictures of the spectacle.”

Though Linde admits to attempting to expose racism and ignorance of Europeans who only focus on certain types of oppression in Africa when racism is still rife in their communities, he claims he did not know what the response of the crowd would be. “I think a lot of people saw some images taken during the performance, saw the pictures online and took the images out of its context. And they accused me and the cultural minister to be racists,” he said. “So I think the people who have been upset about the art piece, about the images, have seen have misunderstood the intention or the agenda of me as an artist.”

It is interesting to note that much of the focus has been on the fact that Linde is a black man, and his artwork in the past, much with the minstrel blackface theme, has been dedicated to raising awareness about racism. Fair enough. What has not been emphasized is that Linde is mixed race, which means he is just as much “white” as he is “black”, showing how the one-drop rule still plays a huge role in our global culture. This would not even be a conversation if a white artist attempted the same “art”. Also, though I’m sure Linde has come across racism living in Europe, it is also noteworthy that he was born in Stockholm, and is assumedly just as far removed from the plight of Africans as other Swedes are.

No one can argue that, no matter what the artist’s true intentions were, Linde’s stunt exposed a strange form of modern-day imperialism and racism. But I think the question we should be asking is, at what cost? Does one injustice hold greater weight than  another, as the atrocity of female circumcision was seemingly made light of, allegedly to expose racism and imperialism? Even if the West shouts out about “oppression” they may know little about, it does not take away from the fact that genital mutilation is a disgusting form of torture, performed on young girls who have no choice in the matter, negatively affecting them for the rest of their lives.

Linde’s tasteless portrayal of an African female undergoing genital mutilation in the mocking form of a cake is a serious problem to many people. Take for example poet and author Kola Boof, who is an actual victim of genital mutilation, who cannot see past the mockery, tweeting heart felt tweets in response to the Ebony article,

@kolaboof: Who is getting this “meaningful artful picture”….at the expense of CUT WOMEN like myself? They see it as hilarious!

@kolaboof: I am vaginally infibulated. I have suffered…my entire life!!! My life is HELL!! And you think this is reaching people??”

I know art is a powerful tool that can be used to expose the ills our societies are plagued with. I am also all for freedom of expression and speech. But I also believe that with that freedom comes a sense of responsibility, and I do not believe Linde acted responsibly, creating “art” that was insensitive to the very people he was allegedly trying to help. And though he claims his point was to expose these post-colonial mindsets of Europeans, he continues to dismissively make excuses for the the Minister of Culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, and she continues to refuse to apologize for any part she had in the event. Wait. So, what was the point of it all again?


& Artist of the Day – Nate Patterson (Stained Glass)

March 1, 2012

Only a few days away from the & Pop-Up Art Exhibition, I wanted to take some time to focus on the three artists whose work will be displayed at the event. I will be featuring one a day, for a three day period. Here’s todays:

Nate Patterson – Stained Glass:

When the thousand-year-old art of stained glass is mentioned, many people exclusively think of the windows of churches and other significant buildings, but Nate’s contemporary style is a beautiful mix of modern, avant-garde art, with the occasional hints of traditional flair. His carpentry and stained glass work is greatly respected in the local community, and can be found in a multitude of homes and other buildings.

Nate’s pieces vary from minimal yet beautifully intricate designs with geometric shapes and vivid colors, to glass murals mirroring the Tennessee landscape that has surrounded him his entire life; beauty such as colorful flowers, fiery sunsets, and luscious green trees. His body of work exhibits the refined level of craftsmanship of a highly skilled artist.

& Artist of the Day – Rhyan McReynolds (Mixed-Media Modern Art)

February 29, 2012

Only a few days away from the & Pop-Up Art Exhibition, I wanted to take some time to focus on the three artists whose work will be displayed at the event. I will be featuring one a day, for a three day period. Here’s todays:

Rhyan McReynolds – Mixed-Media Modern Art:

Rhyan has been involved in the local music, art and skate boarding community for most of his life, and the amalgamation of these cultures, with a little bit of extra flare, comes through loud and clear in his extremely unique artistic style. His work, often done on found objects, plywood, wood shipping palettes, or anything he can get his hands on, is best described as Mixed-Media Modern Art.

Rhyan’s trademark bright color palette of oils and acrylics, mixed with iconic screen-printed images, and free-flowing graphite outlined sketches, sing with fun, witty humor, and controlled chaos. Laisser-faire yet mature, unpretentious yet bold, he has honed his artwork to the point of recognizable genius; a loud, distinctive voice amidst a crowd of monotony.

& Artist of the Day – Andrea Patterson (Photography)

February 28, 2012

Only a few days away from the & Pop-Up Art Exhibition, I wanted to take some time to focus on the three artists whose work will be displayed at the event. I will be featuring one a day, for a three day period. Here’s todays:

Andrea Patterson – Photography:

In this modern age of digital cameras, camera-phone apps, and overly Photoshopped pictures, Andrea’s simplistic photographic esthetic is refreshing and honest.  She takes the pictures as they appear, and only develops and treats them with traditional techniques one would use in the darkroom.

Andrea’s work is characterized by its “everyday” subject matter, as she finds beauty, intrigue, and striking displays of color and light, in seemingly ordinary scenes. She manages to capture subjects and moments that might otherwise go unnoticed, be passed by in the day-to-day business of life, or be considered mundane, craftily highlighting the art in what we often consider commonplace.

Small Town Life & My Personal Views On &.

February 17, 2012

I grew up in Cookeville. So, of course, I have that hometown love for it. However, I must admit that after ten years of living in Cape Town, South Africa, this year I’ve lived in Cookeville has been kind of a strange experience. No offense to Cookeville, but there’s just a lot less “going on” here than there is in Cape Town. And, to be fair, that’s what many people love about this town, “It’s quiet. Chilled. Great place to raise kids,” and what not.

But for me, I’ve found myself needing more stimulation, activity, and happenings. On any given day in my life in Cape Town, there were about a trillion things happening. Ok, ok, that’s a huge exaggeration, but you understand, right? This past year I’ve just been hungry for something different, something out of the ordinary. After a while I had a monologue playing on a loop in my head, complaining about how “nothing’s happening in this town” and “I’m so bored”. Poor old pitiful me. Hmmm.

I’m usually a doer, and I firmly believe in Gandhi’s quote, “be the change you want to see”, but somewhere along the way I got bit with the bug of apathy that plagues many small towns. You know, where we complain about stuff, but aren’t proactive in doing anything about it. I had to slap myself in the face. No, not literally, but yes, metaphorically. I decided if I want more “happenings” then I need to be a part of making them happen, even if only once. And after a couple of conversations with my buddy Andrea, this Ampersand Event was born.

Now it’s happening. And I’m excited about it. We’ve gotten the word out there, and hope to get it spread further. I went around town yesterday and took flyers to TONS of local establishments. I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of genuine interest and support I received from people. Only one single person, out of the many I approached, said that they would not hang up a flyer. That is absolutely amazing. I was feeling the love. And for the most part, the average person I speak to about the event seems to be excited about it.

Of course, it’s not been all love and excitement. The “& signs” we hung up around town before we even announced what the event was were a topic of discussion on a local online forum. Some people were just curious, whilst another person was pretty angry with them because they look “trashy”. After we announced what the event is someone posted, “It sounds like shit but free bear means i will go,” and then, “*beer” in a next post. Funny and sad. I hope people of this attitude are in the minority, though all are welcome.

I also think some people just maybe don’t understand the event. Some people have asked me, “Ok, so besides the work of the three artists, and the snacks, and coffee, and beer, and selected merchandise…what else is happening?” To answer that question simply, the art IS the event, and everything else is an extra added bonus, and pretty cool bonuses at that. Art galleries are open all day every day and that’s the only purpose they serve (plus most of them don’t have coffee and beer).

This event is a once in a lifetime chance to see this art, in this place, in this way. It’s a pop-up exhibition. We will take over this vacant building on 2 East 1st. St. in Cookeville…

…and for one night only there will be artwork from three extremely talented local artists (Andrea Patterson, Nate Patterson, & Rhyan McReynolds), and then the next day it will all be gone again. And there will never be another opportunity to see that very same art, in that very same place, in that very same way. Throw in the extra added bonuses I mentioned, and a bunch of people who are committed to coming out and having a great time, and we really should have a memorable night on our hands.

When all is said and done, we can’t make this an amazing evening without your help. We need your help in spreading the word about it, and we really, really want to see you there. And if you’re anything like me and have ever complained about how “not much is going on”, then this is your chance, as it is mine, for redemption; a chance to be a part of something different, to be a part of the happening. And if you’ve never complained about how “not much is happening”, well, then we most especially want to see you there! Let’s create something beautiful together. I hope to see you there!

Oh, &!

What is an ampersand?

February 8, 2012

Painting our Reality: My speech from Dennis Doe Tamakloe’s “Turtle Dreams” Exhibition

November 22, 2009

What is art?

A way of capturing reality, or a way of creating a totally new one.

A way of recording our history, or a way of dreaming and designing our future.

A way of capturing the beauty of life, or a way of documenting life’s pain.

Art can happen by mistake, or it can be intentionally formed.

Art can be different things to different people, but it is never nothing to someone.

Art is a matter of perception. It’s beauty is in the eye of the beholder. One man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure. One man’s masterpiece can end up on the bottom of another man’s birdcage.

Art can be found anywhere and everywhere, but it is up to the individual to find it, acknowledge it, and appreciate it. Though a work of art stands alone, it is what it is, and its appearance never changes, it is the onlooker who gives art its power and value.

Much is the same with life.

Our lives are full of good and bad, beauty and ugliness, victory and defeat, but we are the ones who give those things the power and value. We can choose to find good in any situation, but it is up to us to seek it out, acknowledge it, and truly appreciate it.

If we look at the history of our world, we see that often, great victories of one civilization were the terrible destruction of another. For a large part, this is the story of the continent of Africa. The West has caused so much pain and devastation in the African continent, and all for its own gain: colonization, the exploitation of valuable minerals, and slavery are sores in the hearts and minds of many Africans, and Westerners alike.

But within all of that pain and torment, some people chose not to accept things for the way they were. They chose to see a different reality! Great leaders who Dennis  beautifully captured in his paintings. People like Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and others not only had a different perspective on what was happening around them, but they themselves began to paint wonderful new realities, crafting a new piece of art within the ugliness of the world around them. They hoped, they dreamed, and they fought, in order to turn horrible situations into something beautiful.

It is important to remember them for the art they created! And though it can be difficult, it is equally important to look back at our past, with the purpose of learning from it. To make shorts visits to the pain that dwells in our past, but not to make an extended stay. We must be dedicated to move on. We must realize that whatever happened in our past, no matter how horrible or painful, though we are formed by it we are not our past, and do not have to be defined by it.

And in this present life, we can use the lessons learned from our forefathers, both African and Western, and learning from their artistic eyes we can create a beautiful present. Dennis told me that when he first moved to Berlin and he saw the tag graffiti he absolutely hated it. He felt that the tags were ugly, and vandalism, and totally ruining good architecture. His dislike for these tags grew and grew. He complained about them both in his mind and to others. But then, at one point, his perspective began to change. One day he looked at one of the tags and saw something else within it.

Dennis no longer saw and perceived the tag as ugly because he looked deeper and gained a new perspective. He allowed the outline of the spray paint lines to guide his eyes to a newer, more beautiful way of viewing the tag. And there, within those lines sprayed by a German youth, Dennis found his own heritage, his own culture, his own reality, and Dennis found beauty. The tag had not changed, but Dennis’ perspective on it had. He no longer looked at the perceived ugliness of the surface, but he looked beyond it and found beauty. And now we are all able to enjoy this new way of seeing, as Dennis joins the most ancient form of African graffiti, with a modern German version. How wonderful, and revolutionary, and beautiful!

At first Dennis let the messiness of the graffiti change him and his attitude, but once he changed his perspective, and chose to see beauty within the mess, true art was formed. And now Dennis sees every tag he comes across in a new and beautiful way, and he even expressed to me that he now wishes there were many, many more of these tags.

From Dennis and his art we learn that life is a matter of perspective. Beauty is always around us but sometimes it is hidden, and sometimes it lies deep within our pain or frustration. That reality may not change until our perspective of it does. We have to choose to see the beauty, but we must first look for it, and then we have to learn to appreciate it.

Our pasts might have been painful, and much of our present was molded by that very pain, but with this new artistic perspective we can shape, and shift, and rework our presents, with brush strokes of the mind we can paint a more beautiful reality for ourselves and others. Rather than complaining about things we do not like we can rather follow Dennis’ example and gain a newer, more beautiful perspective, and like Ghandi urged we can BE the change we want to see around us. And in doing so we can allow art to give meaning to the messiness of life. We will be creating a beautiful work of art, a wonderful masterpiece, and ultimately that work is called our future.