NYU Black Renaissance Noire Fall 2015 Volume 15.2 - Page 115

What is curious here is that instead of naming and defining their work in even more progressive, more revolutionary directions than their Black Arts Movement predecessors, this group of artists chose a name that distances it from Blackness. Like Razaf ’s zany if duplicitous lyrics, the term itself reflects a desire to shroud or to “hide” the Black exterior. It betrays that old, inherited belief in a state of grace that can presumably be achieved, attained, ascended into — the white “inside.” It signifies an incredibly narrow definition of Blackness as source and site of lack, absence, suffering, poverty of being. It indicates a perception of Blackness as unable to exist without continued engagement with an approving/disproving white power system. It is highly plausible then that much of this new work, concerned as it is with race at the expense of Black identity, can be identified not as post-Black, but as Negro and accommodating… which brings us to another unfortunate outcome. Quite simply, it may be that this naming is nothing more than a 90’s style marketing ploy. Choose a brand name that appeases and reassures wealthy, white potential buyers and collectors, that appalls (pun intended) a considerable segment of the Black public and — lo and behold! — you too can enjoy continued free media coverage. Alternatively, if indeed post-Black is the New Black, then the standard ten to twenty-year trend span is nearly done. One can always hope. n BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE The deeper problem of this purportedly post-Black trend may well be its white, mainstream, commercial appeal — which takes us to another distinction that cannot be ignored. Black Arts Movement artists focused heavily, and some maintain to the detriment of their work, on the social and spiritual aspects and effect/s of their work and of all art. They questioned intimately and intensely the roles played by image, representation and especially naming. Post- Black artists seem to focus as heavily on the commercial viability of the art that they produce, even as they satirize or ironically appropriate Western art tropes. Looked at in this light then, to declare oneself and one’s work post-Black is indeed the affront it has been taken to be. If the goal really is to embody a new, more challenging, more radical stance than artists of the 1960’s and 70’s, why not opt for Neo-Black, New Black, or even True Black? Having said that, there is really no reason why any group of artists and thinkers ought not name and define their work in whatever way they choose. 113 Art, by its very nature, is iconoclastic in the most literal sense possible. At the same time that scholars theorized the Black Aesthetic values by which the new Black Art would be validated, they also inadvertently narrowed the means by which artists and thinkers could express. Where, before, the work of African American artists had routinely been described by white art critics as failing to comprehend and successfully execute mainstream Western aesthetics, later white critics dismissed it as “mere” protest or else consigned it to the realm of sociology. Either way, it was no longer judged “bad” art; it was altogether outside the realm of art.