In works such as Nick Cave’s Soundsuits or David Hammons’ Untitled (Rock Head), material evokes the metaphorical and mythological meanings of the black body. Recently, some artists have chosen to symbolically explore its heft and value by emphasizing elevating materiality over the modernist privileging of form. In the artist Dáreece J. Walker’s Black is the giant exhibition of painting, sculpture and text, for instance, the artist's use of cardboard examines the weight of the black body politic in the age of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It’s about a conversation,” says Walker to The Creators Project. “A conversation about how myself and other black Americans that I’ve spoken with feel devalued or not considered in the overall societal structures.” He explains, “There’s a lot of stigma and media bias toward people with dark skin and particularly here in the United States there’s been a lot of police brutality.”
“The reason I used the medium cardboard is because the associations it has with being easily replaceable or disposable. It’s a sentiment that I feel that started to spread through the media representations of black men. It seemed that, through the coverage, black lives didn’t matter as much.”
The exhibition includes two wooden sculptures, The Martyr and The Saint, that speak to the portrayal and discrediting of black victims of police brutality in the media. The abstract works allude to the media coverage branding Trayvon Martin a “thug,” as well as the selection of imagery of black victims of police shootings that inspired the black Twitter hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown. A poem entitled “If They Gun Me Down” by Daniel J. Watts, a Walker collaborator and Hamilton star, presented alongside Walker's objects, aims to capture the bleakness of the representation of black life by the media, even in death:
If they gunned me down
would the media paint a picture
of a poet
or would I be politically portrayed as a perilous person with potential to be a paraphernalia pushing pistol popping pilferer?
If they gunned me down, would you be shown the hopeless romantic mama's boy who writes about how his grandmother taught him how to blow kisses or would you be presented with a production still of the anti-violent "This is how we shoot back" as I brandished a metaphor into the camera?
If they gunned me down
will the photos in which I hold some sort of stone cold pose as I throw two fingers into the air be recognized as peace when they land on judgmental eyes or will they be both misconstrued and inappropriately affiliated with gang culture
by the media vultures that will surely circle my dead carcass ready to feed without taking me or my deeds into consideration?
Walker’s paintings graphically address the violence itself. Made in the USA features a man shirtless, sketched out onto a wall as if stopped and frisked. The self-portrait is anchored by an American flag and logo stating, “made in the USA”—it was printed on the brown box when the artist first found it. Walker paints himself around the symbols, appropriating the iconography of American "inalienable rights" to show how routinely those freedoms fail communities of color. The Police Cross Line series deepens the echoes of injustice. There’s a scene that evokes the shooting death of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy killed in a park because a police officer mistook the child’s toy gun for a real one. Another set of paintings, The Riots and The Eric Garner Lynching, show grizzled landscape portraits of black anguish and suffering that consider the continuous use extrajudicial force against black people by law enforcement nationwide.
“I am trying to tell my story with the work but also retell happenings of the times I live in,” the artist says. “I think after people see the work, I hope that in the world people could be more aware of differing perspectives. There’s a lot of emotion in my work and people feel strongly. I’ve seen some people cry and some get angry. But it’s more about seeding dialogue that extends the conversation taking place in the gallery. I’m not asking for direct action with my work, I’m asking for us to maintain a conversation about racial violence in America.”
Black is the giant continues through September 11 at Long Gallery. Click here for more information.