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Monday, March 11, 2013

Cartooning in Black......and White and Color

Cartoons have held an prominent place in political and social/cultural life for centuries. Political cartoonists critique politicians, classes and stereotypes of people, often with incisive humor. They can also demonize individuals and groups and engage in fear-mongering. Other cartoonists entertain and engage more subtly exploring social, familial, work situations. Effective cartoonists can cut to the bone and have angered people when accepted views of the world are challenged.

The importance of political cartoons was understood by such leading historical personages as Robert Sengstacke Abbott (publisher of the Chicago Defender); and Henry Proctor Slaughter, known for his vast collection of rare African American documents, including political cartoons. In the 1960s, Emory Douglas was well known for his political cartoons in the Black Panther Newspaper.

There was a noticeable absence in mainstream media of Black cartoonists and cartoons reflecting any variety of African American political and cultural points of view. Below is a list of the first 12 syndicated African American cartoonists. These include:

Aaron McGruder's Boondocks
Robb Armstrong - Jump Start - United Media
Ray Billingsley - Curtis- King Features Syndicate
Stephen Bentley - Herb and Jamaal- Tribune Media Services
Charles Boyce- Compu-toon - Tribune Media Services
Barbara Brandon - Where I'm Coming From (a weekly) - Universal Syndicate
Jerry Craft - Mama's Boyz (weekly) - King Features Syndicate
Charlos Gary- Working it Out
Keith Knight- (th)ink, K Chronicles
Aaron McGruder - Universal Press Syndicate (Fall 1998)
Bill Murray - Appearing in over 450 publications around the world
Morrie Turner (The first black cartoonist in national syndication) - Wee Pals - Creators Syndicate
Kerry G. Johnson - Cartoonist creator of Harambee Hills.
 
A Jackie Ormes cartoon
The first African American woman cartoonist was Jackie Ormes, who also worked for the Chicago Defender, and more information can be found out about her at this link. The text in the cartoon at left reads: “Gosh—Thanks if you’re beggin’ for me—But how’s about getting our rich Uncle Sam to put good public schools all over so we can be trained fit for any college?” The more things change, the more they stay the same!

This link will take you to a collection of Black-themed or populated animations.
There is also a vibrant cartoonist community all over Africa. There are two websites of interest: one, where they are grouped by country or genre of cartoons; the second is specific to South Africa. A wide range of opinions can be found about all local, regional, and international news. 


Friday, March 1, 2013

Traditional Aesthetics, Contemporary Art, Recycling

A mission of BlackPast.org is to know and understand the past inorder to make sense of the present, so that we may move forward with knowledge, purpose, and clarity of thought. Artists do this as part of their craft. Some work in traditional formats (painting, sculpting, writing, weaving, potting) using old techniques; others experiment. Some artists create entirely new media in which to express their thoughts and comments about the times and places in which they reside. Regardless, there is no getting away from the past whether they/we embrace, rebel, or think we can ignore it.

This process is exemplified by looking at Kuba cloth made across central Africa; quilts made in Gee's Bend, Alabama; clothing fabric in Ghana; and at a solo exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, NYC of work by the artist El Anatsui of Ghana. The notion of recycling also enters into this discussion: ideas being recycled into different aesthetics/forms; re-using materials to create new art.

Multi-patterned Kuba cloth
Kuba textiles are "woven from the fib of the Raphia Vinifera Palm. Production of these textiles is a multiple stage process which involves the participation of children, men and women of the same clan. The process includes gathering and preparing the raffia fibers for weaving and embroidery, weaving the basic cloth unit, dyeing the embroidery fibers, and embellishing the woven cloth with embroidery, applique, patchwork and dye." The cloths are made in a variety of rectangles and squares that can be combined to make skirts and coverings, household uses of various types. As people's body shapes change (e.g. pregnancy) or sections of a large item wear out, recycling takes place as new sections are added.

A Gee's Bend Quilt
The women of Gee's Bend have been making quilts for generations. By definition, a quilt is made from recycled fabric and clothing items. Quilts are also an excellent medium for telling a family's story. These women have had their quilts exhibited all across the country, from major art museums to galleries in Seattle.
Listen to a story about these amazing artists on NPR, here.
Notice the relationships between the quilt on the pillow below.
Kuba cloth pillow
To see more images of Kuba cloth and to explore the similarities in design and patterns, click on this link. The Textile Museum in Washington, DC had a major exhibit of Kuba Textiles and Weaving. The book produced for the exhibit can be found on their website or through an Amazon banner at BlackPast.org (a portion of the sale will benefit BlackPast.org). The book is magnificent!

"Earth Skin" 2007 El Anatsui
This brings us to the artist El Anatsui, currently exhibiting at the Brooklyn Museum. He "converts found materials into a new type of media that lies between sculpture and painting, combining aesthetic traditions from his birth country, Ghana; his home in Nsukka, Nigeria; and the global history of abstraction." The New York Times art critics Holland Cotter and Karen Rosenberg both reviewed his show. The photographs at each of the above three links will take your breathe away!

Fabric from Ghana
Looking back and forth from each one of these photographs, it is impossible not to see a link, a lineage through time, geography,culture, and aesthetics. The patterns, colors, stories, possess a commonality but have been created in unique circumstance very far from each other, with different intended uses.  What will the next generation of artists take from what they have seen and learned? How will they recycle materials into objects of beauty? Objects of utility?