From the Archives

From the Archives – Beverly Buchanan: Ruins and Rituals at the Brooklyn Museum

On Saturday, millions of women around the world marched to protect their rights and make their voices heard for equality, pouring into the streets and carrying signs with messages both personal and political. In light of the energy their work manifested, today we bring you Lia Wilson’s review of Beverly Buchanans exhibition at the Brooklyn museum; unlike the signs and banners from #WomensMarch—many of which are now being collected by institutions and museums—“Buchanan’s works will age, erode, and integrate into the landscape, reminding us how much these sites have absorbed forever, and how the recovery of these stories is a project without end.” This article was originally published on December 6, 2016.

Beverly Buchanan. <em>Untitled (Double Portrait of Artist with Frustula Sculpture)</em>, n.d.; black and white photograph with original paint marks; 8.5 x 11 in. ©Estate of Beverly Buchanan. Courtesy of Jane Bridges and the Brooklyn Museum.

Beverly Buchanan. Untitled (Double Portrait of Artist with Frustula Sculpture), n.d.; black-and-white photograph with original paint marks; 8.5 x 11 in. ©Estate of Beverly Buchanan. Courtesy of Jane Bridges and the Brooklyn Museum.

A comprehensive and long-overdue exhibition of Beverly Buchanan’s work kicks off A Year of Yes: Reimagining Feminism at the Brooklyn Museum—a yearlong program of ten exhibitions celebrating the first decade of the museum’s Elizabeth Sackler Feminist Art Center. In a time when voices of misogyny and white supremacy are gaining renewed validation in national political discourse, exploring assumptions around feminism and what feminist art can be is more vital than ever. Buchanan’s work highlights unmarked and under-recognized histories of African American life in the rural South. Her practice is redemptive and recuperative at its core—each piece a poignant gesture standing in resistance to the currents of history-writing that prioritize white male voices. Beverly Buchanan—Ruins and Rituals is a rewarding exhibition to see, for in addition to giving a much-undersung artist her due, it also reminds us that expanding access to the national historical narrative is a deeply feminist gesture.

Born in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, Buchanan spent a lot of her upbringing on the campus of South Carolina State University, where her great-uncle was the dean of the School of Architecture. She went on to earn master’s degrees in both parasitology and public health from Columbia University before working as a public health educator in New Jersey. While in New York, she studied with the painter Norman Lewis at the Art Students League, and found a mentor in Romare Bearden. Buchanan was a visible and known figure in New York’s art scene throughout the ’70s and ’80s until she felt drawn back to the South and resettled in Macon, Georgia.

Her practice traverses sculpture, earthworks, photography, and drawing. While certain bodies of work bear formal and conceptual connections to Post-Minimalism and Land Art, others share more in common with outsider and vernacular art that have drawn inspiration from Buchanan’s native rural South. Despite the range and resistance to classification, a clear through line is the artist’s commitment to testimony: her need to record, mark, and memorialize sites in the U.S. landscape that are embedded with suppressed or little acknowledged legacies of racism, violence, and neglect. Ruins and Rituals reminds us of the thousands of stories that remain untold in our national consciousness—some lost forever.

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Odd Jobs

Odd Jobs: Mary Reid Kelley

Odd Jobs is a column exploring artists’ varied and untraditional career arcs. For this installment I spoke with Mary Reid Kelley, whose videos explore the condition of women throughout history by reassessing canonical literary and historical narratives. Reid Kelley writes the scripts, designs the sets, props, and costumes, and performs the leading roles. She and her partner, Patrick Kelley, produce all of the videos. Her videos and installations have been screened, exhibited, and performed at numerous national and international venues, including the Hammer Museum, the Tate Modern, and the Wexner Center for the Arts. She is a senior critic at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design and a critic in painting at the Yale University School of Art.

Mary Reid Kelley. Priapus Agonistes. 2013 (still); HD video with sound; 15m9s. Courtesy of the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Projects.

Mary Reid Kelley. Priapus Agonistes, 2013 (still); HD video with sound; 15:09. Courtesy of the Artist and Susanne Vielmetter Projects.

Calder Yates: You were born in Greenville, South Carolina, and then went to St. Olaf College. What did you do after graduating?

Mary Reid Kelley: I was always a food-service person. After college I worked at a coffee shop in town. Eventually I got a regular waitressing job at a restaurant, which really worked well for me. I was able to work twenty or twenty-five hours a week, make enough to live on, and spend a lot of time in my studio.

CY: Is that what you did up until you went to Yale?

MRK: Yup, that’s what I did. And the restaurant—it was kind of a wine bar—I did a little bit of management. I think you can really learn a lot about people. If you have a job where you’re not miserable and you’re not getting stepped on and abused, which you’re vulnerable to as a low-wage worker in a lot of service industries, I think there’s a lot of opportunities for observation and benign spying.

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Precarious Citizenship

Today, as we in the United States live our first day under a new administration, we bring you John Zarobell’s “Precarious Citizenship.” Originally published in Art Practical’s issue 8.1, this article explores the “precarious citizenship” of Gazi Nafis Ahmed, a Bangladeshi artist whose rich black-and white portraits of queer communities have gained unwanted fundamentalist attention, making it unsafe for him to remain in his country. Zarobell says, “Precarious citizenship is a fact for countless artists, and we must seek justice and asylum for these artists who cannot be safe in their home country.” As we take to the streets today, we march with those across the world whose citizenship does not guarantee or accept their very identity.

Gazi Nafis Ahmed. Shahinoor & Nipa #2, 2013. Courtesy of the Artist. “I am a woman and I love another woman. I want to live with my lover. I don’t want anyone to come between us. We don’t want anyone among us to commit suicide, to get hurt, to become addicted to drugs, to cut themselves. Let us live the way we want to. Now is the time to open up and talk about it.”

Gazi Nafis Ahmed. Shahinoor & Nipa #2, 2013. Courtesy of the Artist. “I am a woman and I love another woman. I want to live with my lover. I don’t want anyone to come between us. We don’t want anyone among us to commit suicide, to get hurt, to become addicted to drugs, to cut themselves. Let us live the way we want to. Now is the time to open up and talk about it.”

In the United States, we tend to think of citizenship as a privilege, but it is not hard to imagine how it could instead be a curse when your very right to exist is challenged in your home country. In 2015, Europe received more than a million refugees—many of whom destroyed their own identity cards in order to erase their national identity so that they could not be deported back to their home countries. The UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention guarantees asylees the right of non-refoulement, which prevents any signatory state from sending refugees back to countries where their lives are in danger due to persecution. This was a response to the persecution of Jews and others under Hitler’s Third Reich, and the Convention constitutes an effort to ensure that such genocides never happen again. But as the global refugee population climbs to sixty-five million, receiving countries struggle to adjust, and many countries have closed their borders altogether so that refugees might never arrive. Forced migration is an issue that often remains in the shadows, but many artists are struggling to find a place where they can express their own views without fear of persecution.

The singer Paul Robeson famously quipped that he was a citizen of the world, and while this sentiment is more common than ever in our globalized age, Robeson’s own experience demonstrates citizenship’s limitations. While speaking out against injustice in the United States, he was hounded by Joseph McCarthy’s infamous House Un-American Activities Committee and was even denied the right to travel abroad in the 1950s. Robeson’s story is tragic and represents a kind of wound that many artists confront to this day. Ai Weiwei was jailed in 2011 and had his passport confiscated for years by Chinese authorities due to his criticism of the government. These cases are but symptoms of a much larger trend of persecuting artists whose work transgresses the norms of their eras or expands social or political conversation beyond the views advocated by the government. Robeson and Ai allow us to see how making art with a conscience can lead to a form of precarious citizenship.

Read the full article here.

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General Strike #J20

We at Daily Serving join our fellow citizens around the world in resistance and solidarity.strike_black

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Mexico City

Juan Acha: Por una Nueva Problemática Artística at Museo de Arte Moderno

Juan Acha is finally getting some recognition. Try searching for his texts in English and you will find a handful of articles about his importance, but little directly from the man who remains one of Latin America’s most relevant contemporary art critics and theoreticians twenty-two years after his death in 1995. As a remedy, Juan Acha: Por una Nueva Problemática Artística (Toward a New Artistic Problematic), at Mexico City’s Museo de Arte Moderno, highlights the work and ideas Acha developed in the museum from 1972, when he left his natal Peru to find refuge in Mexico, until 1976.

Exhibition View with Héctor Pérez Frutos (as installed by Daniel Aguilar Ruvalcaba). Las Dos Fridas, 1997; Oil paint; 5 ft. 8 in. x 5 ft. 8 in. Courtesy of Museo de Arte Moderno. Photo: Ramiro Chaves. 

Héctor Pérez Frutos (as installed by Daniel Aguilar Ruvalcaba). Las Dos Fridas, 1997; oil paint; 5 ft. 8 in. x 5 ft. 8 in.; exhibition view. Courtesy of Museo de Arte Moderno. Photo: Ramiro Chaves.

Acha was a Marxist who believed that Latin American artists shouldn’t impulsively follow the trends set by international conceptual art, but instead develop their own practices in line with their continent’s issues. He inspired and accompanied a generation of artists who, like him, witnessed and in different ways suffered the consequences of the continent’s political turbulences. Some of Acha’s ideas about art are laid out in the essay “Por una Nueva Problemática Artística en Latinoamérica (Toward a New Artistic Problematic in Latin America)”[1], published in 1973 in the magazine Artes Visuales.[2] In the essay, the critic states: “The need to give our countries a new social and cultural turn brings with it the need to ask up to what point we can and should give art a new course.” It wasn’t Acha’s role to define what this new course was, but as the exhibition hints, some artists dared to imagine it and put it into practice, aided by his presence and the context they all shared.

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San Francisco

Generation to Generation: Inherited Memory and Contemporary Art

From Generation to Generation: Inherited Memory and Contemporary Art at the Contemporary Jewish Museum explores Marianne Hirsch’s work on “postmemory,” which posits that even without direct experience, we identify so strongly with some historic events and ancestral stories that we take them as our own. Hirsch’s work and the exhibition examine the role of imagination within memory and the way that it shapes contemporary identity. In a dramatic range of striking works by twenty-four artists, the exhibition invokes the trauma of wars, genocides, and injustices from around the world, while also heralding many forms of resistance. Underlying the exhibition’s conceit, many works create speculative collisions of time and place that position historic moments within the present, moving beyond memorializing to making history resonate in today’s world.

Hank Willis Thomas. Amelia Falling, 2014; Glass mirror and silver, 65 1/8 x 53 1/8 x 1 1/2 in. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Hank Willis Thomas. Amelia Falling, 2014; glass mirror and silver; 65 1/8 x 53 1/8 x 1 1/2 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Born in 1944, near the end of World War II, and informed by his father’s stories of being a Ukrainian Jew hiding from the Gestapo, Christian Boltanski has spent his career exploring the Holocaust. In Scratch (2014), the artist presents yearbook photographs of smiling children from a Jewish school in Berlin, many of whom were likely Holocaust victims. The shape of Boltanski’s work is suggestive of a figure; ten images are arranged in a vertical rectangle, topped with a centered image of a single face. A column of empty black frames in the middle creates a void that alludes to the incompleteness of his work, a subtly powerful indication that there are more children than are pictured. This dark column also implicates the viewer’s presence, such that with no faces pictured, one’s own image is reflected in the glass and surrounded by the children of the Holocaust.

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Printed Matters

Activestills: Photography as Protest in Palestine/Israel

In a new book, the esteemed photojournalist Miki Kratsman describes the uneasy recognition by some former students at Tel Aviv’s Geographic Photography College in 2005: The relationship between photojournalists and media outlets was rapidly shifting in a direction that did not favor visual storytellers, as online platforms achieved supremacy and content demands increased exponentially. From their insecurity sprang Activestills, a collective of dedicated photographers whose work challenges dominant media narratives about a range of issues—including one of the most violently entrenched conflicts on the planet—and the critical assessment of photography to affect change. Activestills: Photography as Protest in Palestine/Israel, the group’s second publication, is an incisive critical and personal reflection on its work of the previous decade.

Image from “Activestills: Photography as Protest in Palestine/Israel” (Israel’s Ethiopian community demonstrates against police brutality and racism, following a series of incidents involving police violence directed at Ethiopian youth, West Jerusalem, 30 April 2015). Courtesy of Shiraz Grinbaum.

Image from “Activestills: Photography as Protest in Palestine/Israel.” (Israel’s Ethiopian community demonstrates against police brutality and racism, after a series of incidents involving police violence directed at Ethiopian youth, West Jerusalem, April 30, 2015.) Courtesy of Shiraz Grinbaum.

It is vital to understand the terminology adopted by Activestills members and contributors. None of the participants accept the title “documentary photographer.” Photojournalists working in the documentary mode—such as Jacob Riis, Jessie Tarbox Beals, Margaret Bourke-White, W. Eugene Smith, and James Nachtwey—operate by long-standing procedural and ethical codes in journalism that understandably prioritize neutrality when capturing a story. While exposing events to worldwide audiences, photojournalists as a rule do not intervene in the actions that unfold before their cameras.

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