A stunning TEDx talk from our own TEDxUM. “Transforming Creativity” is on how to use art for social justice.
Soap, water, lipstick.
Brush your hair like your mother never did.
Tuck yourself in at night like your father never did.
Take deep breaths.
Caress yourself, touch yourself, love yourself.
It takes work, this beautiful art of falling in love with yourself.
It takes tears and redoes
You will fall and struggle
But it will be worth it
for who can love you
more than you love yourself?
The Detroit Institute of Arts recently announced its plans to raise $100 million to ensure that its art will not be sold to cover Detroit’s bankruptcy debts. And just this very concept is troubling to me.
I’ve always had a problem with the idea of people taking ownership of art, even the artist. Art is not a concrete object but is also the emotion and thought that is elicited and provoked; art is an interaction. How in the world can that be quantifiable, let alone be used to leverage the bankruptcy that was the result of corrupt politics?
Ownership of something as intangible and immaterial as art is offensive, not only because of the privilege and resources required to acquire what society dictates are masterpieces, but also because of the masturbatory implications of wanting to own art. People who buy art put it on open display, to flex their financial muscle in front of their audience, and show their ability to exert dominance and power. It is a perverted act of self-pleasure, especially so because it is one that stems from the sole desire to own, possess, and dominate.
And the fact that such a beloved town has to now scramble for money in order to avoid this is devastating. Over and out.
Yes, this is going to be an article defending Kanye West. Accept that and get over it right now. And no, in no way, am I even going to imply that he is perfect. And yes, I read “Why Everybody Has Missed The Point of Kanye’s Bound 2 Video” a while ago but don’t think it influenced this piece that much. And even if it did, who cares? That’s not the fucking point.
Kanye West is the comic whose audience doesn’t react with laughter but outrage. And he loves it. His unapologetic attitude, mistaken by the masses for arrogance, is the source of his art, whether it be his music, his videos, or his fashion. He attempts to conquer actions, symbols, and words that have been historically used to warp the power dynamics of society and subjugate minorities like Kanye West.
One fantastic example of West’s artistic creativity is a recent song titled “I am a God.” This song, because of its title, was received by absolute uproar and the media had a field day fueling the idea that Kanye’s song was clear proof that he is a narcissist whose only fitting punishment was a special circle of Hell reserved just for him. The mainstream media refused to do any sort of productive analysis of the song and decontextualized the shit out of it to perpetuate its narrative of West, which in turn perpetuated the overarching stereotype of angry, aggressive black men. Then, West, as he often does, had to explain what he meant by his art to America and the world. Here’s what he had to say in a radio interview:
â€œWhen someone says â€˜I am a Godâ€™ everyone says â€˜who the hell does he think he is?â€¦ would it have been better if I had a song saying Iâ€™m a nigger or Iâ€™m a gangster? To say you are a God, especially when you got shipped over to the country youâ€™re in and your last name is that of slave owners; how could you have that mentality?â€
West’s songs are informed by his own powerful experiences as a member of one of the most marginalized and misunderstood minorities in America. The idea of taking a concept that has been so white-washed and bleached to get rid of even a tinge of brownness (Jesus and the concept of a monotheistic God originated in the Middle East) and making it Kanye West, making it black is revolutionary. And let’s not forget the recent Bound 2 Music Video, featuring the one and only Kim K. My first thought watching the video was how like a western film it looked. The second thought was how shitty the graphics were. The third was the fact that instead of a cowboy, there was Kanye West. Boom. Kanye West had taken the western genre, one of the most racist and dehumanizing genres of visual media to ever exist, and made it his own. The way the video was filmed mimics the original westerns in all their glory, complete with the shitty graphics and random eagles, and highlights all the ludicrousness of the genre. The fact that West is the star of a film that, just a few years ago, would have cast him as the brainless minority meant to adore the tall, blond white male perpetuator of racial supremacy, is absolutely stunning and, of course, completely misunderstood. West’s critics, who are mostly white, simply don’t get the point of his music and the type of press he creates. Either by choice or sheer ignorance, they see a rapper when they should be seeing a black man, a descendant of slaves, a man burdened with experiences, stereotypes, and responsibilities beyond his control, a man burdened with things they cannot even fathom.Â His actions and comments prompt the initial shock and disgust but no real discussion comes out of them. When he stated on national television that Bush hates black people, there was the visible cringe and retaliation from mainstream America, who just didn’t get it. In the response to Kanye’s comments, racism was reduced from an societal and infrastructural landscape to individualized experiences, making it so that, because Bush himself did not do anything physically violent or say anything overtly racist towards a black person, he cannot be racist. This logic ignores the realities and nuances of the manifestations of racism in our society. Bush not only perpetuated a system in which black people are kept structurally disadvantaged but also initiated policies that disproportionately targeted and discriminated against certain minorities. With reality this harsh, how can anyone say that Kanye should be more “tactful” with what he says? How? And why? What he says is truth that has not been filtered, refined, and polished for easier consumption; it is raw and genuine and paints the reality that many face but so many more ignore. There has been a recent illusion created to boost our egos and avoid our problems, that because mainstream America has been well-off, either everyone else also is or is not because of their own faults;Â the struggles of those who are not like us are deemed irrelevant to our lives or a result of their own laziness as opposed to historical and structural oppression.
West has been criticized for complimenting and congratulating himself from those who do not understand how radical and poignant it is for a black man to applaud his “creative genius” when the entire world looms with laws, statistics, and power structures against him and constantly reduces him to a perverted image of barbarism and primitivity. West lives in a world where self-love in minorities is revolutionary, in a world where if you’re anything but “mainstream,” you are without a doubt lesser; in a world where if you are the other, you do not matter, you do not exist. More importantly, you should not exist. Our fascination with aggressive assimilation is appalling to say the least. Immigrants need to learn English and become “American” as soon as possible. Education must be streamlined and standardized. Quirkiness must be quelled and controversy must be crushed. Anything out of the hegemonic ordinary must not exist for, in the strange, twisted logic puzzle of our universe, our survival depends heavily on how forcefully homogenized we are as opposed to how we can teach each other through our differences. It is one where our race is ignored when it is uncomfortable to talk about our privilege and emphasized when it is convenient to point out others’ misbehavior. Or at least what the masses see as misbehavior. There is hardly anything more painful than watch people confuse self-love with arrogance and try their human best to shred that self-love apart. Kanye’s enemies (and ours) are history, which has so cruelly favored the conquerors and the colonialists; the law, which was written to protect the interests of the wealthy and powerful hegemony; Â and the world, which has made it painfully clear that the darker the skin, the lesser the human. Kanye’s only weapon against such pervasive and omnipresent enemies is a self-love that emanates from his inner being, a self-love that proclaims to the world that there is value in melanin, a self-love that stems from himself and cannot be shackled, whipped, rewritten, forgotten, or erased. And to confuse this self-love with narcissism is a gross crime of ignorance, not “standing up for America’s values” or whatever the fuck the racist, patriarchal assholes on TV are saying these days.
Is Kanye perfect? Once again, no. Some of his actions and words, especially some of his more violent misogynistic and/or homophobic lyrics, are much harder to digest or even listen to. He is human, prone to making mistakes, having melt-downs, everything that all of us sitting in our chairs and criticizing him are prone to as well.Â But he is more than what the masses understand him to be. He is a parody of his genre, a self-made caricature of everything he detests created as a form of protest to the system, the Machine that the rest of us are all-too-willing to bow down to.