May 08, 2014
By Teka-Lark Fleming
Lili Bernard is an artist, a mother of six, a MFA student who has just celebrated her 50th birthday. As the Chronicle is a feminist and Black publication I make it a point to not mention a women’s status in regards to children or age, but to me this is a part of what makes Bernard an artist that is beyond the pedestrian school of white upper middle class men who are predominant in the world of art.
“In one semester all the books I was required to read were by white males, except one,” said Bernard about her current MFA experience at Otis.
Art though it is a creative field its default is often white and male.
Bernard’s existence works to change that default in people’s brains.
She includes her children in her process. She includes her family in her process. She includes her Blackness in her process. She includes her Cuban-ness in her process.
Typically when I go to a conceptual art show it is from the perspective of white America exclusively, even African-American shows tend to be respond to white America’s perspective of Black people.
Bernard’s April 27 show was not a response; it was a dance.
For the last five years I haven’t felt anything when I attended an art show. I’ve seen good art, but I found Bernard’s show disturbing. It was disturbing, because it spoke loudly the things that we don’t talk about. There was a segment where women of African descent ceremonially wet their hair to bring it back to its natural variations on tight coils, but before the ceremony the audience was invited to come up and comb their hair in its unnatural, straightened state.
“If the comb went through you went to white school, if the comb didn’t go through you went to Black school,” said artist Steven J. Brooks while combing Lena Cole Dennis’ hair and recounting the comb test that was done in some parts of the U.S. in the early 20th century.
Bernard makes you question not what is art, but who is art, because that in my opinion is the question for the new millennium.
Can the creative fields move beyond white and male?