Sunday, March 14, 2010

Art blogging: perhaps I am missing something?

I've been chewing on something for a good long week now, trying to figure out if a bit of time would make me change my mind about it.

So I stumbled (not stumbled- the blog is in my reader) across this blogpost .The work is by Kimiko Yoshida and is a series of ongoing self portraits.

(Because the blog where I found this and the artist's own site don't allow posting of pics, I am not going to post them here- please do follow the links to follow along)

Most of Yoshida's work (ok all) is stunning and thoughtful and twists your brain around the ideas of cultural traditions and women (Yoshida herself) becoming so entrenched in those traditions that you can barely make the person out whose self portrait it is.

But then there is the whole blackface issue. Now since I'm not black, I'm just trying to go with some empathy here. Forgive me if I struggle a bit, but here's what's bugging me.

1) Blackface- never right. I understand the point, reducing classic images of the female gaze perpetrated by male artists into monochromatic self portraits. It's clever. But my internal squick measure is still freaking the fuck out.

2) But Yoshida is Japanese and lives in France, different cultural baggage that she's carrying around there. Does blackface have the same connotations when done by someone with no cultural narrative for it? And am I missing a huge point in that this is a Japanese woman, representing (at least in the Gauguin type painting) a brown Tahitian woman, in blackface.

3)That said, I can't "give" the artist a pass on the blackface being that I'm white and all.

4) But what really bugs me is that with all Yoshida's work and with the specific work/show (see here also for more of the same show) that this blogger is writing about, the blogger/designer, Brad Ford at Design Therapy, chose to ONLY focus on the black face portraits in his blog post. (To the best of my knowledge, meaning what I read into his blog and I could be totes wrong- he is white and American and therefore has at least a passing knowledge that blackface is a no no).

So am I bothered by the art itself (a little) or by the manner of presentation of it by a blogger (a lot)? While intent does not a an anti-racist make, I think the artist might be trying to intentionally make us question, while the blogger seems to be following a lazy path of social conditioning+oh look at the pretty shiny thing.

Speak up peeps. You don't have to be an art geek, really. (Talking or writing about art is a bit like being a wine snob most of the time- you can make up all sorts of pretentious sounding shit and get away with it, depending on the audience. You can also just keep it simple with a confident like/dislike. People will assume your opinion is patently the obvious one with the simple answer and that they are dumb for going on about it like an actual critic).

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