The Work We Sit Upon
Updated: Sep 28, 2019
One of my favorite things to do is look for art exhibits around New York to go to. I did this when I first graduated college to pass the time between applying for jobs and for any post grad person it may be a long, long time until something comes through for you. Surprisingly enough, there were a lot of open galleries in New York where you could just walk in for free and enjoy the art. So, if you’re on a budget this could be a rather affordable past time (that is if you’re into art). My favorite source for finding art exhibits is Time Out. You go on their website and there’s a whole section dedicated to art and museums and this is where I came across the exhibition of an artist I had never heard of before, Lubaina Himid. Plot twist! This exhibit, unfortunately, wasn’t free since it’s at the New Museum of Contemporary Art on Bowery Street but if you’re a student with a student ID (or someone who never got rid of their ID and looks 18 still) and you have $12 lying around, head on over! The New Museum also has pay as you wish days on Thursdays from 7 – 9pm.
In this exhibition I learned a little bit about Lubaina Himid and a whole art movement that happened in the UK in the 80s and 90s called the British Black Arts Movement. This was something that I had never come across in my studies of art history while in college (I’m pretending to be shocked) and I’ve now become interested in learning more about it. I've had some trouble actually finding out much about this movement, so who knows, this could be a new project for me.
It’s no surprise that racism, discrimination, and prejudice existed in other places aside from the United States. Throughout history people of color have used this to fuel their fight for equal rights and tell their stories in whatever form that comes in. It’s that premise that fed the British Black Arts Movement and is what feeds Lubaina Himid and her work. The British Black Arts Movement was founded in 1982 with the idea of creating discourse in British culture about race and gender and consisted of artists like Rasheed Araeen, Sonia Boyce, Claudette Johnson, and of course, Lubaina Himid. They were members of the BLK Art Group which was started in 1979.
This specific exhibit was based around her paintings and sculptures from this past year which had a theme of black togetherness and addressed the effects of colonialism. The statement piece of this whole exhibit was a free form sculpture of a deconstructed ship lined with cow shells to reference the significance of the slave trade in the oppression of people of color and the plundering of the African continent. It was called Old Boat/New Money.
The way that this sculpture is configured makes it look like it could collapse at any moment and if you really think about it, that’s what happened with slavery following the Civil War. Looking at the effects of the collapse of slavery and how it decimated the economy in the south makes you think about how unsustainable this economy was.
Aside from that sculpture, there were a couple paintings of black workers working on textiles. This was a homage to Himid’s mother who was a creator of textiles as a profession. She used this setting to show black people working together towards a common goal. In the exhibit, it was expressed that Himid felt that black togetherness was not something that was commonly expressed in art. This made me think about what black togetherness looks like and also how people of color are portrayed in art.
To me black togetherness is the Underground Railroad, the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, and so many other major events and organizations in American history orchestrated by people of color. People of color have always possessed the ability to unite in times of crisis, danger, and pain so that we can advocate for ourselves and fight for out right to exist. Himid portrays that underlying meaning in her paintings. She portrays it in such a joyful way with bright colors and rich brown skin tones. That’s who people of color are right? Bright, filled with color, and exuberance! We come together when we need to and that’s important. In this current social and political climate we have to more and more.
Lubaina’s exhibit was called Lubaina Himid: Work from Underneath for a reason. To me it means that in the history of people of color we sit upon the hard work of our ancestors. The “work from underneath”. Because they worked from underneath, we can now work from underneath for the next generation and hand them a world that is better than how the world is now. Growth! That’s what life is about…growth. Himid's work helps solidify the importance of not just black art but art of any non white race. We are so often fed the history of white culture and art (sometimes to our own detriment), but not our own history and culture in it's entirety and that's why what we do in our art matters. That's how I plan to use my talents as an artist.
When I sit down to start a script or think about a collection I want to design, I think about how brown bodies can play into that narrative I am creating with my work. Representation matters and artists of color should always have that on their minds as they create. We represent ourselves until we enter into the norm and are known and fully recognized. This may sound like a form of assimilation to some but to me it's about helping to create a more level playing field that allows all people to prosper. Lubaina's work is about unity and that's what I connected with the most.