February is the month that Americans have been taught to celebrate black history. Despite the problematic nature of framing it as separate from American history in general—Stacy Dash is the latest to bring this point into the cultural conversation—this month has also become significant for the black community in the conversation around Beyoncé's "Formation" music video and accompanying Super Bowl performance.
Immediately yielding thinkpieces about this new facet of her identity, police boycotts, and an SNL sketch, "["Formation"] is perhaps most impactfully a blueprint for other mainstream artists on how to unequivocally delve into the politics that matter to them while simultaneously holding mainstream attention," argues Dr. Naila Keleta-Mae of the University of Waterloo for Noisey. "The Super Bowl halftime performance was a visceral reminder of what black music was and could again be in the United States. In the year that marks the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Black Panther Party, Beyoncé’s 28 black female dancers dominated the stage in signature berets, heeled combat boots, afros and black leather. It was an ode to the black civil rights era on the altar that is the Super Bowl stage in the United States."
Queen Bey's example, Keleta-Mae says, is one to follow for black artists seeking a language to express political power successfully in the pop arena. Far less discussed, though, is the nature of asserting one's identity in the worlds of GIF and net art—a complicated issue in cultures built on the ability to remain anonymous, if desired. Previously, we've suggested that Tumblr could preserve the black contemporary art scene, but what about the GIF artists who populate Tumblr themselves? In the confluence of Black History Month and Beyoncé making her own history, we spoke to a group of black GIF artist about their experiences in the creative niche we celebrate with each weekly GIF Six-Pack.
Niti Marcelle Mueth
"It's hard to be a black woman and a black artist. I just always felt like I had to do more. My parents didn't want me to be an artist, they don't believe it's a true career but I'm proving them everyday that it's my passion and lifestyle and that it's worth it. I don't always feel like I'm taking seriously as a black artist not just by white people but by minorities too. I did an exhibition last December, DiverCity, and it was to reflect the beauty of differences. I do think that minorities are underrepresented, so I'm trying do represent as different people as I can in my art so they feel like they have a place."
"People of color are underrepresented in every community that white people have ever presented due to the conditioning we've received that white is standard. White people are looked at and heard first while POC are represented only if they excel past that standard. Until we've abolished the white standard, people of color will always be underrepresented. We're all here though."
"GIF art is a very new phenomenon. It was born on the internet which is fairly new in itself and creates a safe space to remain anonymous. I don't think minorities are represented in art in general and this field is no different. However I think the possibilities for minorities to thrive through GIF art is much more possible than traditional gallery art.
I don't think I would have worked with companies as big as Yahoo! and Sports Illustrated had it not been for the fact that my art is relevant to the internet. GIF art gives me exposure at a faster rate than traditional art would have. I was trained at a traditional art school but I feel in love with internet art because I could create work fast and for the masses.
Famous internet artists like Pertra Cortright and Olia Lialina are two females I respect for legitimizing the field. But they are white females who don't necessarily share my perspective as a black female through their work. There is no black female version of them yet. I don't think there has to be. Currently when I seen GIF art that has a racial or political agenda, it was made by microbloggers or students who have not yet had the commercial outlet I mentioned.
I know that as more people take GIF art more seriously and collaborate more with gif artists, that it will be more diverse. When gif artists can start making a living off creating GIF art it will attract people who feel they can share their perspective through the medium."
"I've noticed art coming from creators from all over the globe. I personally have never really taken it upon myself to investigate the racial background of these artists but I don't recall ever meeting any other black GIF artists... yet. I don't think that this medium is lacking diversity at all since it's a form of internet art that can spawn from literally anyone anywhere.
I've met a few black net artists that focus on still works, but not so much animations. Maybe that's their next move, since GIF art is pretty new to popularity. One reason why GIF art and other forms of net art is not very popular in the black community could be because it's not very popular in black pop culture. I have always been into a wide variety of art from many different cultures and, in a way, GIF art found me. A year ago I wouldn't have predicted that I'd currently be making short web animations. The things that I was into lead me into this digital world. If net art started to appear in black music and fashion, then I'm sure there would be a rise in the number black GIF artists appearing around the net."
"As far as being underrepresented, I haven't personally felt it. However, I think there are a ton of age old reasons we get unnoticed across all platforms. With my personal work, I definitely try and focus on using ethnic subjects. Not so much a political statement but more of an aesthetic and color palette. I actually had a conversation with my friend about black artists using mediums such as GIF/video art. I feel like we are underrepresented because we aren't doing 'the norm' of what the art world or whatever world is used to us doing. I could be wrong but unless we are making art like Kara Walker or carbon copies of Basquiat, we aren't noticed. Some of this, however is due to GIF and video artistry being a relatively popular means of expression now. Because of the internet, it makes it that much harder for not just black artists but artists in general to be seen. There's so much out there."
See more GIFs on GIPHY.