NYU Black Renaissance Noire Fall 2015 Volume 15.2 - Page 113

Its proponents were specifically working, thinking and organizing as artists against both the racist domination and control which they called The White Establishment, and the accommodationist stance of their own elders. As young artists and creative intellectuals, they determined to rid themselves of the vestiges of inherited attitudes and ideas about Blackness, which they found limited, limiting, antiquated and necessarily false. The art they were making and the ideas they expounded would establish that the problem was not (their) Blackness. The problem was white racism. It is white racism that had shaped and colored every aspect of their elders’ lives and all Negro life. Their own work as artists and activists would establish once and for all time that there was no Negro problem. Their problem, their parents’ problem, the problem stretching all the way back to the earliest African presence in this country was and had always been a white problem. And their creative work would demonstrate that this was the problem not only of the u.s., but of Western civilization and its colonial encroachment across the globe, three- quarters of which was, after all, not white. Negro Americans, like colonized people of color everywhere, had been thoroughly and systematically trained in the tenets of white supremacy and long alienated from the core values of their own history and cultural traditions. The concern of the Black Arts Movement, therefore, was not how to fit in to the mainstream which was, by definition, white. They chose instead to assert, affirm, reclaim, restore and reinvent that culture of which their parents and forbears had effectively been deprived. Those who clung to the old ways of accommodation and passive resistance were consigned to the past and branded with the equally old term Negro. They — the young, new, hip, forward-thinking people — would henceforth call themselves Black. This new term, Black, then came to represent all that was positive, progressive, revolutionary. And their art, which would actively reject white, mainstream aesthetics and reflect their own values, their newly liberated and evolving Black selves, would be Black Art. 111 The choice of the term post-Black is unfortunate on several levels. Firstly, it is in fact and quite simply a misnomer. In describing how she came to coin it, curator Thelma Golden describes an energetic, hopeful, multi-dimensional progression of art, one specifically grounded in awareness and study of African American art and representation; grounded in a view of that work as the basis of broad contemporary thinking about art, culture and society; and one specifically intended to identify, support and market the work of younger and developing African American visual artists. This is indeed what artists and thinkers of the 1970’s intended when they conceived a creative community rooted in African American values and valuation. And so it came about that the new Black Power ideology of liberation, the Black Arts Movement, developed as a means of claiming and representing the new consciousness in art. It covered every arena of art and culture, and although primarily urban in its appeal, it affected Black youth in every part of the u.s. There had been nothing comparable to its impact since the Harlem Renaissance of the 1910’s and 20’s. BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE As early as 1963, Romare Bearden and the Spiral group were discussing how best to secure the Black identity of their work as visual artists. Determined to remain un-bossed by the white-dominated New York arts scene, they exhibited in their own Cinque Gallery. Four years later in Chicago, another group unified around a variety of principles of Black representation as the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists — africobra. And, while not formally affiliated with an organized group, the ultramodern sculptures of Elizabeth Catlett came to prominence during this period and have remained compelling and relevant for more than six decades.