Kara Walker and the Complexities of Race

Kara Walker, an African American artist, is well known throughout the art world mainly for her detailed cutout paper silhouettes, which adorn the walls of exhibition rooms. They focus on race, gender, and sexuality, but have also caused controversy among other artists for their depictions of stereotypes of black people. Yet her personal style comments upon complicated race relations and the struggle of acknowledging America’s dark history of slavery. She first came into the spotlight in 1994 with Gone, An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart. Currently, she serves as a Visual Arts chair at Rutgers University and resides in Brooklyn.

This week, for my LHSP Race and Ethnicity class, I had the privilege of seeing two of the five pieces from her The Means to an End: A Shadow Drama in Five Acts series at the UMMA. Looking at it up close, we examined the intricate details that added to the characterization of the subjects, who were all depicted in silhouette profile. I had no idea that the UMMA housed these works, but was delighted to find that there is an abundance of famous and unique art. It was a great experience to actually witness Walker’s work in real life, as well as analyze it in a modern context–I had just learned about her other work in my Art and Design history class. I hope to return to the UMMA soon and continue learning about these amazing contemporary artists.

(Allentown Art Museum)

The Ann Arbor Film Festival

Last night, I went to the Out Night screening of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, and it was such a unique experience. It was also endearing to see members of the Ann Arbor community come together to watch and participate in the film festival. I had never gone to the AAFF before, nor had I known that it is the oldest avant garde and experimental film festival in North America. This year marks its 56th anniversary.

Out Night featured a collection of experimental short films with LGBTQ themes. For instance, the first film used stop motion and data collected from floppy disks to assemble a dizzying piece of AOL chat exchanges and homoerotic nude photos, presenting the online persona of a man named “jim.” Another film was shot as a music video and had two elderly women escape together from their boring “sitcersize” class. Overall, the films each had truly indescribable qualities, from using hand-drawn animation, to old footage from the 80’s, to a documentary approach, in order to create an individual piece of art. At the conclusion of the screening, audience members could vote on their favorites (or least favorites).

I walked away a little confused, but inspired. As an art student, I appreciated the hours of hard work that went into each film and the creativity it took to conceptualize that creative work. I realized that there were dozens of people involved in the making of the films, and countless people who helped put together the entire festival. If you haven’t been to the AAFF before, I strongly suggest you check out what’s happening and bring a friend! There are also afterparties and other events this week. Let yourself be inspired! https://www.aafilmfest.org/

Interdisciplinary Arts

The dictionary definition of interdisciplinary is relating to more than one branch of knowledge. As a first year student at Michigan, I have learned to appreciate this integral part of the academic structure as related to my classes.

I knew before I came to Michigan that I wanted to pursue both design and English, and I decided to enroll in the Multiple Dependent Degree Program. I am aiming to get a BA in Art & Design in Stamps as well as a BA in Communication Studies in LSA. I aspire to have a career in creative direction and graphic design, and my interests span technology, media, English literature, and pretty much all things arts-related.

Within my freshman year classes, I have already used the unique opportunity to combine studies. Although I am not enrolled in another interdisciplinary program, I love that my classes give me flexibility to use knowledge and tools from other areas of academia to supplement learning.

For example, I began composing music in my 4D (Audio/Video/Time-based projects) for my videos, which made me appreciate my music background more and inspired me to incorporate composition into my Methods of Inquiry class. I also joined the Campus band, which allows me to keep playing clarinet, since I knew I would not be studying music in college.

Furthermore, the Stamps School of Art & Design is well known for its interdisciplinary approach to art. They encourage students not to dwell on one subject, but to explore other artistic mediums and areas which intersect with society. Foundation year, although overbearing at times, pushes the idea that art and design are interconnected, and that knowledge of cultural, political, social, and economic contexts is essential for learning about and producing creative work. If I had gone to another university, perhaps one not as large as Michigan, I probably would never have thought about touching clay, or writing music for an art class. I could do research, or take business classes, or have an on-campus internship. I truly appreciate the freedom of this education and encourage students to take advantage of all that Michigan has to offer.

When Art and Culture Clash

Art in culture usually go hand in hand. Yet sometimes there are times when elements don’t line up, and conflict ensues. For instance: artist Barbara Kruger and the appropriation of her artwork, namely the Supreme brand.

Barbara Kruger is known for her anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian collages, full of witty platitudes and irony. During the 60’s-80’s, she developed her personal style, working with Conde Nast and other publications. Most significant is her iconic text treatment, the Futura Bold Italic font on a red box–the “inspiration” for the streetwear brand Supreme. The interesting thing is that Supreme, a cultish symbol of wealth and consumerism fraught with mostly young skaters, contradicts directly with Kruger’s feminist, subversive messages which question oppression and institutions. And yet, the brand has grown from a skate shop in NYC to a globally-recognized powerhouse, stemming from the use of the infamous “box logo” appropriated from Kruger’s artwork.

In 2013, Supreme founder James Jebbia launched a $10 million lawsuit against the brand Married to the Mob for its “Supreme Bitch” t-shirt which also appropriated the box logo style. Kruger commented in an email, “What a ridiculous clusterf*ck of totally uncool jokers. I make my work about this kind of sadly foolish farce. I’m waiting for all of them to sue me for copyright infringement.”

After years of controversy, Kruger decided to respond to Supreme, by introducing her own line of merchandise in collaboration with Volcom, featuring MTA cards, hoodies, and skateboards at Performa17 in November. Evidently, appropriation and who copies whom will remain a pertinent issue in our changing age of art and design. It is important to remain critical and conscious.

A List of Lovely Things

As I reflect over spring break, I realize how lucky I am, even in this unpredictable, dangerous world. Over the past few years, I have become better at appreciating the little things in life, the things that inspire me and push me to wake up in the morning. Through tough times I try to remember them, and realize that nearly everything is temporary. I’ve compiled a brief list of those specific things. Hopefully, you’ll be able to relate and create a list of your own…

  • Listening to a past favorite song and basking in a wave of memories
  • The smell of spring
  • That one random warm winter day
  • Snuggling up into new sheets
  • Finally finishing that book
  • The first snow of the year
  • Sausage, egg and cheeses (in my hometown!)

Why We Need Gun Control Now

At this point, gun control isn’t a choice–it’s a necessity. We talk about gun control, but the debate seems to only pop up after a mass shooting and fade away thereafter. Since 2012, the number of mass killings has proliferated, yet no real effective legislation has been passed. Every student, teacher, and staff member deserves to feel safe in their own schools.

In the wake of the horrific Parkland shooting, teenagers across the country have taken to campaigning for gun control reform. Notably, the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have been outspoken in the need for new reform that will prevent future mass shootings in the United States. Some conservatives tout the Second Amendment and refuse to solve the problem supposedly “caused by mental illness.” But since when is the right to own a lethal weapon more important than children’s lives? Bipartisan legislation has been slow if anything at all. It was also shocking to learn that the FBI ignored reports and clear warning signs to follow up on the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, who then went to kill 17 and injure many more.

Students who are taking action after being directly involved in such a traumatic incident calls for great courage, and I applaud that. It is certain that we need stricter gun laws now, including more thorough background checks, and abolishment of high-caliber automatic weapons. Gun control doesn’t have to do only with public mass shootings, but also with domestic incidents and suicides. Of course mental health reform is another issue. Thoughts and prayers are not enough–they won’t solve what’s already happened or prevent these incidents in the future. We urgently need gun control. If only the government would feel the same way.

Learn more about gun control and how to take action at everytown.org.