“We are at a crucial crossroad in the history of this nation–and we either hang together by combating these forces that divide and degrade us or we hang separately. Do we have the intelligence, humor, imagination, courage, tolerance, love, respect, and will to meet the challenge? Time will tell. None of us alone can save the nation or world. But each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so.”
— Cornel West, Race Matters
ALTERNATIVE to the DOMINANT CANON of ART SCHOOL
By Lili Bernard 2016
SIX ART CLASSES FOR A CURRICULUM ALTERNATIVE TO THE DOMINANT CANON
The following are six classes that I have designed and propose to teach, as a fulltime professor of art at either the graduate or undergraduate level, that would alternatively complement the curricula of the dominant canon. Three are studio art classes; two are contemporary art history classes; one is a theory class. I would teach two or three of these classes per semester. The class descriptions illuminate my teaching philosophy and research (both outlined in the ensuing chapters), as well as my commitment to help integrate art academia so that it represents and may better serve the world within and around it, by providing access to information and expression routinely omitted from art academia and the annals of art history.This pedagogy that I have created will help steer art academia towards true gender and race equality. It will arm and empower students of all backgrounds to navigate art academia and the so-called “art world” with a keen sensitivity towards diversity and fair representation which are essential to achieving relevance and excellence. You will find my teaching philosophy, my supporting research, and letters of recommendation immediately following the description of the six classes below that I have designed and propose to teach.
1) Silent No More: a multidisciplinary studio art class
The groundbreaking CNN documentary film, Hunting Ground, released in November 2015, illuminates that sexual assault on college campuses is an endemic problem of “enormous” proportion. Research shows that one in every four female students will be raped or sexually assaulted by the time they graduate college. This class is a creative, discursive vehicle of support and empowerment that encourages students of all genders to use their art and voices in order to combat rape culture — whether they are survivors, bystanders or advocates of sexual assault victims. Students will create art in any form, using whichever mediums best represent their critical thought, concerns, frustrations, personal experiences, hopes or plans regarding sexual violence. Through slide show presentations and an occasional guest artist visit, students will be exposed to visual artists whose works represent and challenge rape culture. As an interdisciplinary, exhibiting visual artist whose artwork and research center around sexual violence (as well as racism), and as a public figure rape survivor and anti-rape activist who was instrumental in the abolition of the statute of limitations on rape and sexual assault prosecution in California; I am empathetically well-equipped to teach this class of a most sensitive, personal and critical subject.
The following are artists whose work on rape will be surveyed (listed in first name alphabetical order — with names linking to the artists’ online presence): Ana Mendieta, Andrea Bowers, Artemesia Gentilschi, Carolee Schneemann, Cindy Sherman, Clare Carter, Donna Ferrato, Elana Mann & Audrey Chan, Emma Sulkowicz, Frida Kahlo, Joyce J. Scott, Judy Chicago, Kara Walker, Käthe Kollwitz, Kiera Farber, Kiki Smith, Leslie Labowitz, Lili Bernard, Nan Goldin, Nancy Spero, Numa Perrier, Sue Williams and Suzanne Lacy.
[Recommended reading: Confronting Art About Rape, Emily Newman, 2014, Texas A&M University-Commerce; and Efficacy Representation of Rape in Performance , Cami Rowe, 2014, Goldsmith University of London.]
2) Angularity, Asymmetry and Decorating a Decoration: a painting studio art class
Inspired by Zora Neal Hurston’s essay, The Characteristics of Negro Expression (1934), wherein Hurston examines the so-called Black cultural aesthetics of angularity, asymmetry and “decorating a decoration;” this studio painting class offers an alternative to neutrality, centrality and minimalism. Students create their own paintings that explore these three aesthetics of so-called “negro expression” as defined by Hurston. Through slide show presentations and an occasional guest artist visit, students will be exposed to the works of Black contemporary artist who have employed either or all of these three creative aesthetics in their paintings. Students will be encouraged to discuss whether or not these aesthetics of Black creative expression are contrived or actually pertain and, if so, to what capacity. Through their examination of the works of artists presented, students will consider and determine whether Hurston’s theory on the aesthetics of Black creative expression is an outdated and culturally biased notion, or if it is relevant. Students will also consider whether or not different cultures, including their own, have specific aesthetic languages and forms of creative expression that are commonplace; or whether such dynamics transcend all racial, cultural and religious boundaries. This class uses the works of Black artists as a trope to incite multicultural dialogue while also providing access to the works of artists who have been systematical omitted from mainstream art discourse and the annals of art history.
Black painters (and Black artists who have used paint as a medium in their work) to which students will be exposed include the following (in first name alphabetical order — names link to artists’ online presence): Aaron Douglas, Aaron Waugh, Adah Glenn, Adrienne DeVine, AfraShe Asungi, Al Loving,Alma Thomas, Amos Ferguson, Archibald Motley, Artis Lane, Ayé A. Aton, Ayeola Moore, Barkley L. Hendricks, Beauford Delaney, Benny Andrews, Bernard Hoyes, Bob Thompson, Bre Gipson, Brenna Youngblood, Buena Johnson, CCH Pounder, Charles Alston, Charles Bibbs, Charles Gaines, Charla Puryear, Charles White, Chelle Barbour, Chris Ofili, Daniel LaRue Johnson, Danny Simmons, Derrick Maddox, Donna Angers, Doyle Lane, Duane Paul, Ebony G. Patterson, Ed Clark, Edgar Arceneaux, Edward Bannister, Eldzier Cortor, Enoch Mack, Eric Mack, Ernie Barnes, Esther Mahlangu, Fab 5 Freddy, Faith Ringgold, Frank Bowling, Frohawk Two Feathers, Gary Simmons, Glenn Ligon, Graham Goddard, Gwen Knight, Hale Woodruff, Hank Willis Thomas, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Henry Taylor, Hillary Jaynes, Holly Tempo, Howardina Pindell, Hughie Lee Smith, Ingrid Elburg, Jack Whitten, Jacob Lawrence, Jean-Michel Basquiat, John Bankston, Joseph Sims, John Biggers, John E. Dowell Jr., John Outterbridge, Joshua Johnson, Joyce Owens, Julie Mehretu, June Edmonds, Kehinde Wiley, Keith Mikell, Kerry James Marshall, Laylah Ali, Lezley Saar, Lili Bernard, Lisa Diane Wedgeworth, Lois Mailou Jones, Loren Holland, Lucien Smith, Manuel Mendive, Mark Bradford, Mark Broyard, Mark Steven Greenfield,Matthew Thomas, Maurice Evans, Meleko Mokgosi, Mequita Ahuja, Michael Massenburg, Michelle Robinson, Mickalene Thomas, Miguel Covarrubias, Miles Regis, Miriam Moore, Moses Ball, Nick Cave, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Noah Davis, Noni Olabisi, Norman Lewis, Nzuji De Magalhaes, Pat Payne, Purvis Young, Rashid Johnson, Regina Herod, Renée Green, Rico Gatson, Richard Mayhew, Robert Colescott, Robert Pruitt, Rodney McMillian, Romare Bearden, Ronda Brown,Rosalind McGary, Sam Doyle, Sam Gilliam, Sam Pace, Samella Lewis, Sanford Biggers, Saya Woolfalk, Sharon Barnes,Shinique Smith, Silfredo La O, Sister Gertrude Morgan, Suzanne Jackson, Synthia Saint James, Tanea Richardson, Teresa Tolliver, Thornton Dial, Toni Scott, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Valerie Piraino,Varnette Honeywood, Vincent Johnson, Wangechi Mutu, Wendell Wiggins, Wilfredo Lam, William H. Johnson, William Paujaud, William T. Williams, William Villalongo, Willie Middlebrook, Yohanes Tesfaye, Yung Jake and Zeal Harris.
[Recommended Reading: The Characteristics of Negro Expression, Zora Neal Hurston, 1934.]
3) Roots and Raspa: a social practice studio art class
“Raspa” is Cuban slang for the slightly burnt yet edible crust on the outer edges of cooked white rice. It often has to be scraped from the pot against which it has been stuck. This social practice art class invites students to metaphorically explore their roots and identity as they relate to marginalized and dominant cultures, through projects involving socially engaged art and performance. Students are challenged to incorporate into their projects working installations with artistic aesthetics and components. The class involves individual and group critique as well as an overview of social practice artists whose work explores issues of identity and otherness.
Artists surveyed are selected from the following (in first name alphabetical order — names link to artists’ online presence): Adeola Enigbokan, Adrian Piper, Alicia Grullon, Allan Kaprow, Ann Messner, Asma Kazmi, Barby Asante, Caroline Woolard, Chto Delat, Coco Fusco, Daniel Jesus French, Daniel Tucker, Elia Alba,Emma Sulkowicz, Flux Factory, Gan Golan, Gregory Sholette, Guerilla Girls, Hans Haacke, Heather Hart,Hope Ginsburg, Judy Chicago, Justin A. Langlois, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Asma Kazmi, Kenyatta A.C Hinkle, Lili Bernard, Lisa Diane Wedgeworth, Luis Camnitzer, Luminous Intervention, Naeem Mohaiemen, Nick Cave, Noah Fischer, Pedro Lasch, Maren Hassinger, Marina Abramovic, Mark Bradford, Oreet Ashery, Pablo Helguera, Pepón Osorio, Rick Lowe, Roberto Del Hoyo, Suzanne Lacy, Tahir Hemphill, Tania Bruguera, Teka Lark, Theaster Gates, Ulysses Jenkins and William Pope L.
[Recommended reading: Education for Socially Engaged Art, Pablo Helguera, 2011, Jorge Pinto Books; and Leaving Art: Writings on Performance, Politics and Publics, Suzanne Lacy, 2010, Duke University Press.]
4) Afro-Femme: a contemporary art history class
This lecture-based class examines the works of arguably the most underrepresented group of artists: Black women. It takes a look at the artwork and careers of Black female artists across the diaspora, most living and based in the USA. For the extensive research I have conducted for this class, please scroll down to the last chapter at the end of this manuscript: “Chapter 10: RESEARCH ON SEXISM WITHING RACIST CONSTRUCTS IN CURATORIAL PRACTICES.:
Black female artists and their work discussed are selected from the following list (in first name alphabetical order — names link to artists’ online presence): Adah Glenn, Adrian Piper, Adrienne DeVine, AfraShe Asungi, Alison Saar, Alma Thomas, Angela Briggs, April Bey, Artis Lane, Augusta Savage, Ayeola Moore, Betye Saar, Bre Gipson, Brenna Youngblood, Buena Johnson, Carrie Mae Weems, Castillo, CCH Pounder, Chakaia Booker, Charla Puryear, Charmaine Bee, Chelle Barbour, Coco Fusco, Danielle Dean, Delphine Diallo, Dominique Moody, Donna Angers, Donna Brown, Ebony G. Patterson, Edmonia Lewis, Elia Alba, Ellen Gallagher, Elizabeth Catlett, Endia Beal, Esther Mahlangu,Faith Ringgold, Gwen Knight, Harriet Powers, Heather Hart, Hillary Jaynes, Holly Tempo, Howardina Pindell, Ingrid Elburg, janet e. dandridge, Jasmine Murrell, Jessica Wimbley, Joyce J. Scott, Joyce Owens, Julie Mehretu, June Edmonds, Kathie Foley-Meyer, Kara Walker, Karien Zackery, Karyn Olivier, Kenyatta A.C Hinkle,Kenturah Davis, Kesha Bruce, Kira Lynn Harris, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Lauren Halsey, Lauren Kelley,Lavialle Campbell, Laylah Ali, Leslie Hewitt, Lezley Saar, Lili Bernard, Lisa Diane Wedgeworth, Lisa C. Soto, Lois Mailou Jones, Loren Holland, Lorna Simpson, Lorraine O’Grady, Lynette Yiadom Boakyes, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Maren Hassinger, Marisa Williamson, Martine Syms, Mendi Obadike,Mequita Ahuja, Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, Michelle Robinson, Mickalene Thomas, Mildred Howard,Miriam Moore, Myrlande Contsant, Nadine Robinson, Nandipha Mntambo, Nicola Goode, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Noni Olabisi, Notsikelelo Veleko, Numa Perrier, Nzuji De Magalhaes, Pat Payne, Pat Ward Williams, Raksha Parekh, Regina Herod, Renée Cox, Renée Green, Ronda Brown, Rosalind McGary, Rosalyn Myles, Ruth Waddy, Samella Lewis, Saya Woolfalk, Senga Nengudi, Shantell Martin, Sharon Barnes, Shinique Smith, Simone Leigh, Sister Gertrude Morgan, Sondra Perry, Suné Woods, Suzanne Jackson,Sylvia Maier, Tanea Richardson, Tameka Norris, Teresa Tolliver, Toni Scott, Valerie Piraino, Varnette Honeywood, Wangechi Mutu, Xaviera Simmons, Zeal Harris and Zina Saro-Wiwa.
5) BAILA: Black Artists in Los Angeles: a contemporary art history class
Los Angeles has a rich and expansive community of Black Artists. Although some are A-List internationally acclaimed artists, most are underrepresented, despite their credentials and the critical content of their expansive bodies of work. In 2011, I started a pedagogical, career networking movement called BAILA: Black Artists In Los Angeles. This class offers an overview of BAILA and an inside look at the work and studios of living, exhibiting and deceased Black Artists In Los Angeles(BAILA). In the class room setting, students will learn about the work of BAILA, through lectures and artist talks. Outside of the lecture hall, the class will conduct field trips to the private art studios of exhibiting BAILA who will share with the students insights into their practices. Artists studied include those currently living and working in Los Angeles as well as those who hail from Los Angeles or with working or educational roots in Los Angeles.
Artist talks and studio visits of BAILA are requested from the likes of the following LA-based Black artists (in first name alphabetical order — names link to artists’ online presence) Aaron Waugh, Adah Glenn, Adrienne DeVine, AfraShe Asungi, Alison Saar, Angela Briggs, April Bey, Artis Lane, Bettye Saar,Buena Johnson, Castillo, Charla Puryear, Charles Bibbs, Charles Dickson, Charles Gaines, Charles Rosenberg, Chelle Barbour, Dale Brockman Davis, Daniel LaRue Johnson, Derrick Maddox, Dominique Moody, Doug Pearsall, Doyle Lane, Duane Paul, Edgar Arceneaux, Enoch Mack, Frohawk Two Feathers,Graham Goddard, Henry Taylor, Hillary Jaynes, Ingrid Elburg, janet e. dandridge, J Michael Walker,Jessica Wimbley, Jim Starks, Jr. Joe Lewis, John Outterbridge, Joseph Beckles, Joseph Sims, June Edmonds, Kahlil Joseph, Karien Zackery, Kathie Foley-Meyer, Kehinde Wiley, Kenyatta A.C Hinkle, Kenturah Davis, Keith Mikell, Kori Newkirk, Lamonte Westmoreland, Lavialle Campbell, Lezley Saar, Lili Bernard, Lisa Diane Wedgeworth, Lisa C. Soto, Meleko Mokgosi, Malik Gaines, Mark Bradford, Mark Broyard, Mark Steven Greenfield, Martine Syms, Meleko Mokgosi, Michael Massenburg, Michelle Robinson, Miles Regis, Miriam Moore, Nicola Goode, Noah Davis, Numa Perrier, Nzuji De Magalhaes,Rosalind McGary, Raksha Parekh, Regina Herod, Rodney McMillian, Ronda Brown, Rosalyn Myles, Ruth Waddy, Sam Pace, Samella Lewis, Samuel Levi Jones, Sanford Biggers, Sharon Barnes, Silfredo La O, Steven J. Brooks, Suné Woods,Teresa Tolliver, Todd Gray, Ulysses Jenkins, Vincent Johnson, Wendell Wiggins, Willie Middlebrook,Yohanes Tesfaye, Yrneh Gabon Brown, Yung Jake, and Zeal Harris, among others.
[Recommended reading: Now Dig This: Art & Black Los Angeles: 1960-1980, Kellie Jones, Hammer Museum UCLA, 2011; and Exhibiting Blackness: African Americans and the American Art Museum, Bridget R. Cooks, University of Massachusetts Press, 2011.]
6) Alternative to the Dominant Canon: a theory class for art students
The standard pedagogy of art theory in the United States of America centers almost exclusively around the philosophies of White males, most Marxian atheist. In excluding from curricula the theory of non-White-male scholars, art academia thereby promotes misogyny and White supremacy. This class offers an alternative. It examines the theory of thinkers and writers outside of the dominant canon. The purpose of the class is to provide insight, from a global perspective, into diverse historical and contemporary philosophical thought.
Students will read and write about the critical theory of philosophers and scholars selected from the following (listed in first-name alphabetical order, with each name linked to the assigned text by the author): Adrian Piper, Amalia Mesa-Bains, Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, Augustine of Hippo, bell hooks,Caren Kaplan, Carlos Moore, Coco Fusco, Confucius, Cornel West, Darby English, Edward Said, Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, Frantz Fanon, Hannah Arendt, Helene Cixous, Henepola Gunaratana, Henry Louis Gates, Jenann Ismael, Judith Butler, Julia Ching, Kahlil Gibran, Lao-Tzu, Linda Martín-Alcoff, Lisa Jones, Lorraine O’Grady, M.A. Jaimes Guerrero, Margaret Urban Walker, Marilena de Souza Chaui, Martin Luther King, Jr., Melissa Harris-Perry, Michele M. Moody-Adams, Miwon Kwon, Mohandas Gandhi, Octavia Butler, Paula Gunn Allen, Paulo Freire, Seyla Benhabib, Stacyann Chin, Stuart Hall,Teresa Carrillo, Théophile Obenga, Thich Nhat Hanh, Tullia D’Aragona, Trinh T. Minh-Ha, W.E.B. Dubois, and Zora Neal Hurston.
OTHER SUBJECTS WHICH I AM QUALIFIED TO TEACH
Drawing, Drama, Installation, Mixed Media, Performance Art, Sculpture and Writing
This completes the curriculum I am offering to teach at the graduate and/or undergraduate art school levels as a fulltime professor. Following are chapters outlining my teaching philosophy and my supporting research.
MY TEACHING PHILOSOPHY DEFINED IN THREE SENTENCES
Providing students access to information on non-European ideology and artistic expression, in tandem with Eurocentrism and in complement to the dominant canon, is paramount within my teaching philosophy. Whereas my teaching philosophy recognizes the significance of the European contribution to art history and philosophy; it supports students in excavating and examining ideologies and forms of art making that are rooted within their own cultural experiences, which may be non-European. My teaching philosophy revolutionarily lifts the veil of suppression of information so that students’ thinking, research and art production may reflect the ethnic reality that is America, which is diverse.
A MULTICULTURAL FAMILY HISTORY BIRTHED MY TEACHING PHILOSOPHY
My teaching philosophy is born of my multicultural family history. My Afro-Amerindian-Cuban-Jamaican Caribbean-born father and his Afro-Amerindian Cuban-born father were both professors, activists and historians. I too was born in Cuba, as were my granddad, both parents and most of my six siblings, two of whom are PhD-holding professors — my brother in physics, my sister in multicultural education. Still living and active at the age of 90, our father is a retired electrical engineer and was a professor of mathematics. As well as being a painter, my father’s father was a professor of divinity and of several of the seven languages which he spoke fluently. He was also born almost 19 years before slavery ended in Cuba. DNA carries ancestral memory: I am a multilingual activist painter, who aspires to be a professor, and whose work is informed by slavery, Afro-Caribbean religion and the genocide of my indigenous ancestors. My historically-based teaching philosophy, its activism born of my paternal lineage, challenges each student to think critically about their art making choices and creative expression while supporting them in the development of an aesthetic language that is authentic to their life experiences and germane to their interests. The goal is to help students create a foundation from which they can produce works of critical importance, thereby positioning themselves in society and history in a place of relevance. At the core of my teaching philosophy is the understanding that a student, when defending their work, may edify an instructor, provided that the instructor keeps an open mind when challenging and listening to the student. The desired outcome to this teaching approach is that each student becomes an independent and critical thinker who creates original content that informs and reflects society rather than merely mirrors the works of their instructors.
When students emerge from art school mimicking their professors’ conscience and creative production, they inadvertently contribute to the skewing of the art world, and the society which it influences, towards White supremacy. The reason for this is that the gross majority of art professors and art school board of directors in America are White. This racially biased predominance is preserved through exclusionary hiring habits and homogeneous pedagogic practices. I witnessed this phenomenon first-hand, reflected in the curricula and demographics of the faculty in my graduate art school, where all but one board member (an Asian woman) are White. It was compelling. In my second semester, I conducted a research project entitled Addressing the Dearth in which I tallied the demographics of fulltime faculty in the six most prominent Southern California art schools. Here is the staggering reality that my research revealed regarding demographics of fulltime faculty in the top six Southern California art schools in 2013: 83.80% White with a 8/7 male/female ratio, 6.70% Asian with a 6/6 male/female ratio, 5.59% Black with a 7/3 male/female ratio, and 3.91% Latin with a 7/0 male/female ratio. What this meant for me is that in Southern California where I have lived since 1993, as a Latina (Hispanic woman), I stood a zero percent chance of being hired as a fulltime art professor in 2013. You can read more details of my research towards the end of this manuscript.
I soon thereafter learned that this dilemma of racist hiring practices in art school is not just a Southern California problem; it is also a national crisis. In my last semester of graduate art school, I was recruited to be a panelist in a discussion at the 2014 CAA (College Art Association) Conference in Chicago on the topic of balancing motherhood and art; I had given birth to six children in a ten year span, while creating art prolifically and engaging as a leader in L.A. art communities of color. My children’s presence is known in the mainstream L.A. art scene as well. Their brown skin and youth make them highly visible at gallery openings and other art functions where crowds are mostly adult White people. At the 2014 CAA conference in Chicago, I spoke about how my children, whom I incorporate in my art making and performances, are the inspiration behind my work as a feminist artist; they are Black, creative, highly intelligent and five of them are males who have already been subjected to racial profiling. It was a highly attended discussion at the CAA conference, rife with questions from the captivated audience. The component of the conference which I found most astounding was the exclusivity — the fact that out of the thousands of attendees and speakers I saw; we of color were virtually non-existent. I had to dart my eyes back and forth, and crane my neck long and hard, in order to locate a single person of color in the crowd of professors and wannabe professors of art academia. My teaching philosophy offers an alternative to this racist dominant canon of art academia as reflected in CAA conferences and art schools. Critical to my teaching philosophy is the acknowledgement that Americans are not just White; they are also Black, Brown and Beige, as Duke Ellington suggested. They are not just Anglo; they are also African, Middle Eastern, Indian, Mediterranean, Gypsy, Eastern European, Caribbean, Indigenous, Latino, Hispanic, Chicano, Asian and Islanders. They are not just atheists and agnostics; they are also Yoruba, KiKongo, Hindu, Sikh, Taoist, Confucian, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Santero, Palero, Macumba, Candomblé, Umbanda, Vudon and Rastafari. They are not just heterosexual and homosexual; they are intersex, androgynous, trans, cys, bisexual, asexual and all the variables in between that constitute the complexities of our sexual identity. They are not all in their twenties and thirties; they are fetuses, infants, toddlers, children, teenagers, middle-aged, old and dying. They are not all healthy and privileged; they are poor, sick, suffering, disenfranchised, battered and abused. All of these “types” of people comprise the fiber of our American culture. All are equally worthy of attention, consideration, inclusion, love and respect.
My teaching philosophy allows each student, regardless of their distinguishing characteristics, the freedom to interpret ideology and create art from a personal perspective, while stimulating them to consider exploring alternative viewpoints. It encourages each student to mine and lionize their own cultural riches and life histories, while simultaneously engaging in Eurocentric practices which they are free to reject or embrace. It offers to expose students, professors, institutions and society to information that is currently missing from the dominant canon of art academia. It does this by providing students access to a cornucopia of knowledge that will enrich their creative processes and expand their art production. The ultimate goal is that, collectively, the creative content coming out of art school will reflect the multiculturalism and diversity of the real world in which we live. In order to assist each student in becoming an authentic and empowered agent of the issues which their creative expression examines, an instructor must keep a keen interest in the issues which inform the student’s work. This requires humility on the part of the instructor and a thirst for knowledge to which the instructor may not be privy. A one-on-one approach and a respect for the cultural background and life experiences of every student are necessary for a teacher to become an advocate of growth for each student rather than an adversary or an inadvertent agent of oppression.
Before entering graduate art school, my Black and Latino colleagues who hold MFAs warned me of the frustration they experienced on account of Eurocentric biases dominating art academia through exclusion — an exclusivity that results in students of color being unnecessarily subjected to micro-aggressions of racism. My Black and Latino colleagues told me that they were often not understood in art school classroom discussions and critiques. They said that they felt pressured to conform to an aesthetic which contradicted their identity. Often, they felt discouraged, isolated and humiliated. They were sometimes dismissed as being nonintellectual because they spoke sophisticated knowledge, consistent with their cultural upbringing, to which their instructors and fellow students have had no access and therefore did not understand. These unnecessary conflicts diverted their focus from their studies and hindered their art production. With an art faculty comprised of almost exclusively White instructors, these MFA peers of color felt that they had no professor to whom to turn for support, who would be sensitive enough or knowledgeable of their struggles.
On many occasions in graduate art school I had to invest energy defending myself, as eloquently and dispassionately as possible, against racially insensitive or inadvertently racist comments from some well-intending professors. I had to fight against the erasure of the cultural and religious content in my work which some professors attempted to impose upon me. Sometimes these micro-aggressions of racism were blatant. Other times they were more subtle — like the time when a White female professor, who is a feminist artist, came into my studio and said to me, “Why are all your subjects Black people?” I responded to her, “That’s an inaccurate observation. Look, there’s a White man in that painting, my rich great-grandfather William Bernard. He’s about to rape my poor Black Jamaican great-grandmother Caroline. She was his maidservant. My father’s mother was born from this rape.” I then turned on a video-art piece that I made which I kept on display on a DVD wall-monitor, entitledThe Legacy of Christopher Columbus, A Short Account in Technicolor. I said to the questioning professor, “Look, and here’s another White person in my work. That’s a conquistador. He’s raping my Siboney (indigenous Cuban) ancestor.”
The professor seemed stunned. “Yes, rape of women of color by powerful men is an integral part of my heritage on my dad’s side and on my mom’s side,” I told her. I did not feel comfortable in sharing with her that I too am a survivor of rape by an extremely powerful man. She probably would not have believed me had I told her the truth, that my perpetrator is a man viewed by her and the world as being “America’s Dad.” To me and to hundreds of other women who had the misfortune of knowing him personally; he is a hypocritical, cowardly, duplicitous, drugging serial rapist, roaming freely on account of his fame and fortune. Rather than speaking of my own suffering; I switched subjects and refocused on the source of inspiration behind my video-art piece which was captivating her attention. I informed her that I had composed the narration of the video-art piece entirely of quotes in verbatim from the book, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, written by Bartolomé de Las Casas in 1542. De Las Casas was the Spanish court-appointed priest who accompanied the conquistador Diego Velázquez, also from Spain, during the conquest of the New World. Velázquez became the first governor of Cuba. My parents introduced me to the writings of De Las Casas in my youth. My father’s father, my Abuelo José (the Cuban-born Afro-Amerindian), played an important role in the archiving of Cuba’s liberation from centuries of cruel Spanish dominion. I showed the professor a narrative portrait painting that I made of my abuelo, which I kept hung on my studio wall. It’s called El Mambí. I explained the painting to the professor and the poignant narrative therein.
Discussions with my parents about my Abuelo José’s intriguing history are part of the research that informs my artwork and greatly inspires my activism. My parents nurture my interest and commitment to archiving our family history through my art creation and writing. They bestowed to me the six-volume Santa Biblia (“Holy Bible” in Spanish) which my father’s father used to compose and conduct his charismatic sermons in the humble evangelical poor Black church and school he founded and of which he served as pastor. He called the church Las Buenas Nuevas (Spanish for “Good Newness”). His church was also his house. It was located on La Calle Trocha in Santiago de Cuba, about six blocks from the house where I learned to walk and talk. The books are historical relics, large and thick, each elaborately embossed in worn brown leather with crosses, shells and roses as ornaments. The bible books were published in Barcelona in 1853 which is 33 years before slavery ended in Cuba. Jesus Christ died on the cross when he was 33. I look at the presence of significant numerology, moments of imagery and spectacular events, not as coincidences, but as divine signs, ancestrally driven, that order my steps. It is an amazing privilege for me to be able to hold in my hands and read the same bibles which my grandfather held in his hands and from which he read as he ministered evangelically to his poor Black Cuban congregation. They are the same bibles that appear in the fading photos of my grandfather from which I paint re-imagined narrative portraits of him. They are the same bibles onto which my abuelo’s tears stained pages of scripture as he wept over the mourning of his mother, Clemencia, whose indigenous phenotype predominated her countenance. My Abuelo José’s mother’s grandmother was pure Siboney (indigenous eastern Cuban), as confirmed by my DNA test. The rest of my grandfather’s ancestry was mostly African. The painting,El Mambí, which I showed to the professor in my studio, memorializes my abuelo at work in the battlefield at the moment when he was notified of the death of his mother. Clamencia’s tragic demise, resulting from the war, was archived in the National Museum of Cuba. She gave birth to my Abuelo José in 1868, which was almost two decades before slavery ended in Cuba. (Slavery ended late in Cuba, in 1886, much later than it ended in America). The words “Pardo Libre” (which translate to “Free Black Man of Mixed Descent”) appear on my grandfather’s birth certificate. Free Blacks in antebellum Cuba were typically highly educated and were known to have mixed with the few remaining indigenous people. As well as being a professor, multi-lingual author, evangelical pastor, poet and painter; my grandfather was also a Mambí.
The Mambíses were insurgent solders of Cuba’s war of independence against Spain. They were mostly Black, mostly former slaves, mixed with some elite Criollos (Cuban-born Spaniards, usually in commanding positions in the war), some Chinese, and some indigenous folk. The Mambises wore tattered white clothing, straw hats and wielded machetes in guerrilla warfare. My grandfather served as a war correspondent. Rather than using a machete as a weapon of violence, he used a pencil as a tool for peace. His written observations on the battle fields were published in the rebel newspaper, El Cubano Libre. The publications containing my grandfather’s writings are housed in the National Library of Cuba. I indicated to the inquiring professor in my studio where the actual text from my grandfather’s writings appears in my painting, including an acrostic poem he wrote and published upon learning of his mother’s death. I revealed to my professor the iconography in the video-art piecethat points to the mixing of my grandfather’s ancestors: native people who were strong enough to survive the near extinction of their race through the genocide, and African enslaved people who had escaped to freedom. I showed her where the same iconography is echoed in the Caroline painting, the narrative occuring in Kingston Jamaica — from which a short distance of water separates Kingston from Santiago de Cuba. Black Santiagueros (people from Santiago de Cuba) commonly have Jamaican ancestry, as do I on both sides of my lineage. I told the professor about the frustration I feel when some White professors and museum curators have come into my studio and dismissed my paintings as being merely figurative and representational as opposed to conceptual. I told the professor how I inform them that my paintings are full of metaphoric concept, of complex dynamics of racism and rape in the Americas. I told her how it’s the intellectual spirits of my ancestors that impel me to bring these concepts through the telling of their stories in my art. I told her that it was clear to me that I inherited survival tactics and warrior-like behavioral characteristics from my grandparents whom I never met. I shared with her the research I was doing on epigenetics (the scientific term for DNA memory), which I will explain in the supporting research portion towards the end of this paper. I told the professor it is clear to me that I received my activist, fighting spirit from my paternal grandparents.
Then I showed her paintings I made of my maternal grandparents and told her how the abuse of male power and privelege over women of color also worked on my mother’s side. My mother’s father, my Abuelo Julio, was Spanish European, White. He was 40 years old when he impregnated my 15 year old half-Black Jamaican half-Chinese grandmother, Princesa who had a newborn baby at the time they met. The baby resulted from Princesa having been raped by a Black man at the age of 14. My abuela Princesa conceded that the sexual relationship she had with my White Spanish grandfather Julio, who was almost three times her age, was consensual, though she was a child when it started. Eventually Princesa and Julio married and raised ten children together, my mother being one of the youngest. An important part of my research, upon which I will elaborate later, involves examining the roots of rape and the role that the abuse of male privilege has played in not only colonization and Criolization, but also in contemporary society, and how all of this works in race relationships. Rape and the abuse of male power and privilege in the Caribbean normalized the mixing of races. Though mostly consensual now, the sexual relationships between Whites and Blacks in Cuba began by force (rape) when Christopher Columbus authorized the importation of African slaves into Cuba in 1512, which was almost thirty years prior to De Las Casas writing of A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies. In my video-art piece, I reference the early presence of Africans in Cuba and their mixing with indigenous populations in the phenotype of the subjects in the work, as well as in the Afro-religious folkloric iconography, which I pointed out to the professor.
I told the professor how De Las Casas wrote about the early presence of enslaved Africans in Cuba, and how he had transcribed the diary of Christopher Columbus upon whose ship he sailed across the Atlantic to Cuba. She lamented that she had never heard of De Las Casas. I showed her the book and suggested that she should buy it. “It’s on Amazon,” I said to her, “and Barnes and Noble, and Kindle.” The professor appeared perturbed – at whom, I do not know – perhaps at her former professors for never having exposed her to De Las Casas, for having never taught her the role that Cuba played in the Criolization of the Americas, particularly in New Orleans where Afro-Cuban musicians highly influenced American jazz and Black culture. I said to her, “I don’t mean to offend or be antagonistic — I’m really just curious and want to understand — but since you came in here and brought up the topic of race; why is it that only White subjects appear in your artwork?” Her confounded silence indicated to me that she had never looked at her feminist artwork from that perspective, until I brought it to her attention. Her White privilege left her unexposed and blind to the meaningful and metaphoric Afro-Caribbean historical references and religious iconography exuding from all of the artwork in my studio, full of concept. She was oblivious to the rich Pan-African history that my art archives, which is a history that is no less important than her European history. It is a history that is unjustly suppressed in art academia and omitted from the annals of art history. I told her that my artwork necessarily fills that void. Compared to comments from other professors; the question she blurted to me upon entering my studio was benign. During an open critique which I suffered through in graduate art school, a group of well-meaning and self-assured White feminist professors commented that the imagery and specificity in my work “is just too much, too busy, too complicated” and suggested that I “eliminate it, so that people can relate to it.” When my jaw dropped in a moment of prolonged silence, they asked me, “What do you think?” I answered, “I’m just seeing this word flashing in my head. It has seven letters: E-R-A-S-U-R-E.” The room became quiet. “Are you calling us ‘racists?!’” They asked indignantly. I said, “You said that word, not I.” I liked these women and was therefore saddened at their failure to not even realize the implications of what they were saying to me. There were other incidences in graduate art school that were far worse, more racially oppressive and painful than this one.
In critiques and class discussions there was always a push towards conformity of exclusively European standards and ideals. I spent an exorbitance of time in graduate art school pointing out all the cultural biases and the racism in the assigned reading material, authored by almost exclusively White males, including Karl Marx whose bigotry I unveiled in my writing and classroom discussions, to the shock of my peers. Approval-seeking students and self-aggrandizing professors, in a sort of pack mentality, scoffed at me and dismissed me over my dissension. When I disagreed and refused to asses a theory from their European perspective; eyes rolled, heads turned away and demeaning words like “you don’t understand” rolled off their tongues. Sometimes I felt bullied by their scornful attempts to convince me that my ethnocentric viewpoint was wrong. At times, the comments were so oppressive that I had to politely excuse myself from the classroom. When I voiced my protest by politely dismissing myself from the abuse, fellow Latina and Black students sometimes stole peeks at me from the corners of their eyes, while repressing smiles of approval. After class, they uttered to me “You’re badass!” — a compliment which they made sure no one overheard. I understand the fear that prohibits most art students of color from speaking out in class against the dominant canon. The methods of silencing are overwhelming. Resilience and endurance are required to fight the oppression; one has to be in a sense a warrior. I also understand that the racism which some of these White professors and students exhibit, of which they are unaware, is subconscious and born of ignorance rather than malice. However, the arrogant spewing of their elitist Eurocentric biases is a burdensome distraction from art creation and the conducting of relevant research.
INDEPENDENT STUDY INFLUENCING INCLUSION IN THE DOMINANT CANON
Some of my BLACK MFA-holding peers were fortunate to study at CalArts where A-list artist Charles Gaines, who is African-American, is a fulltime professor. Those students said that Gaines played an integral role in their intellectual development while also serving as a role model who understood their frustration with regard to racial tension. When I was accepted into the MFA studio art program at CalArts, I attended their orientation for accepted students, which included an open studio. I spoke to a multitude of students, including White ones, and asked them what was the significance of having Charles Gaines as one of their professors. He was a favorite of among most, including White students. They spoke of how much information they learned from him, to which they had never before been exposed. They said he taught them to look at things from new and different perspectives, and that they felt supported by him to just be themselves. One White male student even painted a portrait of Charles with the words “My Papa” on it, which hung on his studio wall. This is the kind of professor whom I aspire to mirror, from whom I desire to learn how to be an effective professor, one who is able to support students of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds and encourage them to approach their work from uncharted vantage points.
Charles Gaines, recruited me for CalArts’ MFA art program into which I and a number of other Black artists were accepted in 2012. The scholarship offer, however, was minuscule. None of the six other Black accepted students whom I met at the orientation ended up attending CalArts. They said that their decision to not attend was based upon their not being offered enough scholarship money. Charles fought hard to try to get more money for me, but to no avail. In the meantime, Suzanne Lacy, department head of Otis’ Graduate Public Practice MFA Program, who had begun recruiting me several years prior, kept increasing the scholarship offer. In 2012, the same year I was accepted into CalArts; she offered me literally twenty times the scholarship than did CalArts. It was an offer that I could not refuse. Suzanne made it clear that she and Otis really wanted me in their program. My main attraction to the program was Suzanne Lacy’s artwork. She is a heralded White feminist artist, whose multicultural/multigenerational performative work engages the public on extremely important issues that affect masses of people, as does my work. Suzanne’s work often focuses on issues of violence against women, which is one of my key interests. I am mesmerized by Suzanne’s art project She Who Could Fly in which she invited female rape victims to participate as subjects in a poignant and poetic performance piece, incorporating sculpture, installation and dialogue that engaged the public.
The pedagogy that Suzanne fostered for me at Otis is an example of how an art department head can effectively serve the interests of students of color by providing them access to professors of color whose work parallels the students’ interests. Otis is one of the few art Schools, like CalArts, who has a fulltime Black professor of fine arts. Her name is Holly Tempo. She is a painter, but does not teach in the Otis’ Graduate Public Practice Program. I voiced to Suzanne Lacy the importance of my having Black and Latin art professors for the enrichment of both my studio fine art work and my social practice performative work. Suzanne accommodated me by arranging for me to receive graduate credit in an undergraduate painting class taught by visiting faculty, Chicana painter-performance artist, Patssi Valdez, who is one of the four founding members of the legendary L.A. Chicano artist collaborative known as Asco, which operated from 1972 to 1987. We learned about Asco in Suzanne’s program under the tutelage of partime professor Sandra De La Loza who is also a Chicana artist. The text we used for the class was the 432-long page catalog book of the exhibition, Asco: Elite of the Obscure which ran at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) from September 4, 2011 – December 4, 2011 as part of the Getty Initiatives series of exhibitions throughout L.A. called Pacific Standard Time (PST). Suzanne was aware of how fond I had become of Asco’s work and how I related to it. When I complained to her about the sociopolitical oppressive constructs in another class in which the visiting professors, who were neither Black nor Latin, subjected me to a number of humiliating micro-aggressions of racism; Suzanne offered me an option and arranged for me to have independent study, for two semesters, with another one of Asco’s four founding members: legendary L.A. Chicano muralist-punk-rocker, Willie Herrón. The other two founding members of Asco are Chicano artists: painter-performance artist Gronk and photographer-videographer-performance artist Harry Gamboa Jr, who is a professor at CalArts. At Otis, my professor Patssi Valdez invited Gronk to give a talk and painting demo during our painting class. We also went on a field trip to Gronk’s art studio.
I had already met the fourth Asco founding member, Harry Gamboa Jr, on my own, a year prior to my having started graduate art school. I included Harry’s work in an exhibition I organized and curated in 2011 for the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs at the William Grant Still Arts Center. I called the exhibition Colonialism: The Collective Unconscious, inspired by books I read by Martinique-born Black philosopher, Frantz Fanon. The exhibition was ranked #5 in famed art critic Mat Gleason’s Huffington Post year end art reveiw, “Top 11 L.A. Art Shows of 2011.” It ran during the same period of PST. Through this exhibition, I formed a relationship with Harry Gamboa Jr and his wife Barbara Carrasco whose work I also featured in the show, alongside the works of other great artists such as one of my mentors, John Outterbridge. It was an amazing and absolutely enriching experience for me to be able to know all four Asco founding members; the meeting of three of them made possible by Suzanne Lacy’s support of my work and interests. Although of a different racial and ethnic background than mine, all of these Chicano artist-professors with whom Suzanne Lacy provided me access, some whom held no MFA’s, harbored the same personal and intellectual understanding of the negative impacts of colonialism, from a Latino perspective, which they expressed in their work as did I. It was the common thread that united us.
Supporting my need to be taught by Black professors as well; Suzanne approved my request for independent studies with Ulysses Jenkins who is an Afro-centric Black performance artist and fulltime professor at UC Irvine, where he is one of only two fulltime Black professors. Ulysses understands the Afro-Caribbean and spiritual concepts in my work. He exposed me to reading material that aligned with my interests and creative production. He took me to the Fowler Museum UCLA to see Amalia Mesa-Bains‘ exhibition New World Wunderkammer which was full of the same Afro-Latino religious iconography that appears in my work. Amalia Mesa Baines is a Chicana MacArthur Genius whose philosophical publications I recommended to a White feminist professor of one of my theory classes, in which the authors of reading material she assigned were all White men. (My request was not heeded.) Finally, knowing how I value the work of Charles Gaines, Suzanne Lacy approved my request for Charles to serve as my independent studies thesis professor at Otis. Charles invited me to attend his classes at CalArts, and exposed me to sociopolitical material which he knew would edify my work. He challenged me intellectually. It was through his example that I learned to modify my vocabulary and rhetoric in a manner consistent with art academia. Charles displayed an Afro-feminist mentality. Supporting my interests in violence against women; he privileged me with a private tour by artist Andrea Bowers of her exhibition, “#sweetjane,” at Pamona College Museum of Art. The exhibition is about the Steubenville rape case. Andrea is one of the White feminist part-time faculty at Otis who has a keen sensitivity towards issues of race and never uttered a single racially insensitive comment to me. For my final hours-long grueling critique, Charles invited three prominent artists of color, who are all affiliated with CaArts, to join him in critiquing my work. Two are Black men who both received their MFA’s from CalArts: Edgar Arceneaux and Rodney McMillian who is the only Black fulltime professor of art at UCLA. The third artist is Asma Kazmi (MFA Art Institute of Chicago), who was born and raised in Pakistan. Asma is a Middle Eastern feminist sculptor and social practice performance artist whose work explores issues of religion, war, death, racism, sexism, gender and literacy. She is currently the co-director of CalArts’ art program where she is also a faculty member. Charles made an extra effort to provide access for me to personal discussions and critiques with prominent artists whose work he new would interest me, stimulate me intellectually and to which I could relate.
Similarly, Suzanne Lacy made every effort to creatively support my interests in racism and sexism and to satisfy my desire to be taught by Latino and Black professors. This multi-cultural educational environment which Suzanne Lacy individually provided for me was not fostered in every corner on campus. While graduate art school instrumentally and exponentially contributed to my evolution and criticality as an artist; I too, as a Black Latina graduate art student, experienced the same frustration, distraction, humiliation and isolation in art academia, on many occasions, as did my Black MFA-holding peers who had warned me. It’s worth mentioning that the problems of micro-aggressions of racism in academia are not just specific to art school. They also occur in medical school, law school, business school and many other areas. As part of my MFA thesis solo show in 2014, I organized and hosted a discussion that I called BAILA: Black Academics in Los Angeles Roundtable: The Micro-Aggressions of Racism in Academia which featured Black panelists who represented various academic fields of study. The problems were the same across the board. Everyone complained that the time they had to spend fighting racism detracted from their ability to focus on their work.
I organized the micro-agressions in academia roundtable discussion in the same manner in which I organize round table discussions for BAILA: Black Artists in Los Angeles, which I founded in 2011, a year prior to my having started graduate school. BAILA exists as a perpetual social practice art project. It performs as an educational networking art movement, orchestrated to illuminate the work and advance the careers of Black visual artists in the L.A. area. My work for BAILA, all volunteer, has involved research, the curating of BAILA exhibitions, the hosting of art critiques and studio visits, the mentoring of BAILA adults and youth, the archiving and publishing of BAILA happenings and the facilitating of roundtable discussions between BAILA and mainstream arts organizations. BAILA roundtables that I’ve organized and facilitated thus far have included discussions with many institutions, including LACMA, The Hammer Museum UCLA, Otis, art critic/gallerist Mat Gleason,California African American Museum, the Getty Museum and the Getty Research Institute, which resulted in “BAILA Boxes” that I curated for the group being archived in the permanent library collections of both Getty institutions. I provide more information on my work for and with BAILA in the supporting research section towards the end of this manuscript. Suffice to say that BAILA’s ultimate goal is to serve as a catalyst in the erasure of the gross marginalization of Black visual artists across the nation, in museums, art galleries, art history books and art schools in which we Black artists suffer immensely. I invited the Otis community to participate in all of the BAILA functions I organized while in graduate art school, which were many, in order to build bridges of communication and understanding, with the purpose of sensitizing art academia to the basic needs of Black artists — which are respect, acknowledgment and inclusion. These principles are not necessarily fundamental to art academia when it comes to its treatment of artists of color.
To avoid subjecting students of color to racially-driven derision and diversion; a professor can at least mentally survey the demographics and interests of their students in order to better help each student focus and evolve without unnecessary distractions. One White professor of mine, Karen Moss, who is also a museum curator, and from whom I learned a wealth of knowledge, did this successfully. Although the authors to whom she assigned us to read were almost exclusively White (click here to view the syllabus of her first semester class and my tallying of the author demographics therein); I cannot necessarily fault Karen for this dynamic in her syllabus. It could very well be that authors of color are not writing about artists of color in great numbers. Or if they are, perhaps these authors of color are not privileged with the same access to publishing houses as are White authors. Karen Moss did, however, consistently show to us material of work by artists whose ethnic backgrounds mirror the racial identities of the four Latinos and two Blacks who comprised the majority of our class. The Jewish mother of a son married to a Black Caribbean women, Karen Moss taught with the utmost racial sensitivity and open-mindedness. In class, when discussing a project I was working on related to Black hair; Karen quipped that she has a “Jewfro.” During my MFA thesis solo show, she participated in the public-engagement socio-political ensemble performance part of this work. It’s entitled Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure. I elaborately codified the art objects, installation and performative components of this work with Afro-Caribbean religious iconography. Inspired by Frantz Fanon’s books Black Skin White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth, this public engagement performance piece uses Black hair as a trope in challenging the collective subconscious association of Blackness with wrongness, among colonized people. The work embraces the struggle that White women with curly hair also endure, feeling pressured to conform to the European standard of beauty which requires straight hair. Besides Karen Moss with her Jewfro, another White female who has an Irishfro, one of my teenage son’s life-long friend Kathleen, also participated in the performance. The rest of the principal performers were Black, some native Afro-Cuban like me.
Certainly as there exist some White professors who display few or no racist proclivities, as the ones I mentioned above; so can there exist Black professors whose thought processes and work conform to elitist exclusively Eurocentric standards. Regardless of their own predisposition, a professor should not hinder a student from positioning their work and rhetoric in a manner that is relevant to them and the society which they navigate, however foreign to the professor the student’s concepts and work content may be. Vital to my teaching philosophy is the provision of access to a diverse body of knowledge and information for all students, regardless of race, creed, religion, gender or sexual orientation. The ultimate goal is for each student to feel encouraged and supported in their intellectual growth and critical art production without being hampered by distractions born of pedagogic cultural biases that are nothing but catalysts for micro-aggressions of racism and sexism.
It is my goal that no student in my care would ever feel unattended or marginalized. I understand the importance of one-one-one attention. I have many years of experience teaching and lecturing youth and adults in art workshops and seminars that I have led which have been sponsored by museums and universities. I use my art installations as tropes through which people learn about Afro-Caribbean culture and Pan-Americanism while engaging themselves in processes that are creative, performative and playful, as I did with my public engagement art workshop and project Orishas Through the Cross Roads and the Gate at the California African American Museum on June 15, 2013. In this work I invite guests to play a metaphoric game of foursquare that challenges participants to consider the impacts of colonization with regard to boundaries, translocation, and transcendence. This work is filled with Afro-Caribbean iconography. In the art workshop portion of this project, I explain the significance of symbols and colors as it relates to the Orishas (Yoruba deities) that were syncretized with Catholic Saints in Cuba, giving rise to the religion known as Santeria. Sometimes the work, though poetic, is not entirely playful. Sometimes pain is invoked, necessary for healing. A new workshop I created called Silent No More invites participants to create a functional art object, and to participate in a casual group performance, followed by discussion. The workshop is a creative vehicle of support and empowerment that encourages participants to use their voices in order to combat rape culture. Whether they are survivors, bystanders or advocates of sexual assault victims; through the use of metaphor, participants experience the personal impact of speaking out against sexual violence. I premiered this workshp on November 20, 2015 at Occidental College in Los Angeles, in Professor Caroline Heldman’s undergraduate class, Campus Anti Rape Movement.
I also have many years of experience serving as an educator and community arts leader in my own quasi institutions that I’ve founded and organized, such as BAILA: Black Artists in Los Angeles (2011-present) and HABLA: Harvesting Asia Black Latino Artists (2007-2012) from which I birthed BAILA. HABLA was a community art program that I created and ran for five years from my former art studio on Chung King Road which is the main strip of Chinatown L.A.’s art scene. The acronym of HABLA is representative of the ethnicities that compromise my multicultural heritage (African, Latin and Chinese plus some European). In my Chinatown studio space, I created my own prolific body artwork while also providing a platform, in the same space, for underrepresented artists, including White artists. The program was complex and educational. I mentored adults and youth in the visual arts and provided a plethora of opportunities for artists in general. I hosted guest artist talks, group critiques, free art lessons and workshops which I taught, book readings and signings of A-List authors, poetry readings and spoken word slam performances, musical concerts, dance performances, and had an expansive calendar of group art exhibitions for an experimental multicultural adult artist collaborative that I hosted for about a year and a half of the five-year-long HABLA project. In running HABLA for five years, I quickly learned that it’s the Black artist who is the most marginalized of the group. I therefore switched my efforts to focusing on privileging and helping to educate Black artists. However, I always invite artists of all colors, including White, to regularly participate in BAILA functions. At the core of the BAILA pedagogy is inclusion and unity of all races.
With all of this wealth of experience serving the community at large, as a volunteer educator in the arts who is adept at bringing people from various backgrounds together and serving them long-term; I have absolutely no experience running a college-level class, outside of my experience of being a guest lecturer in some college classes I’ve taught for a day. I cannot therefore pretend to know what it’s like to be a regular weekly presence and key figure in an art students’ academic life in which they have invested much money, time and work. My hope is that I will be hired by an institution whose faculty members are willing to mentor me along the way, to serve as examples of excellence for me, as did Patssi Valdez, Sandra de La Losa, Willie Herrón, Ulysses Jenkins, Charles Gaines, Andrea Bowers, Karen Moss, Consuela Montoya Velasco and Suzanne Lacy who made these opportunities and the resulting growth possible for me. I hope to land in an institution comprised of faculty who are open-minded critical thinkers of the highest ethical standards as are the aforementioned artist-professors from whom I was priveleged to learn in graduate arts school. I do realize that I may stumble when I walk in the shadows of their footsteps. However, I’m ready to learn how to be the most accessible and supportive professor I can be for every student. I want to be fertilizer in the academic development of each student, not poison. I want to be a springboard for careers of all of my students as have my professors have been for me.
RESEARCH ON THE ORIGINS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN OF COLOR
Concerning my own art-making practices, my research examines the intersection of sexism and racism, from a historical, cultural and religious perspective informed by my personal experiences as a third generation Caribbean-born rape survivor. Whereas the racism to which I’ve been subjected in life, the nonsexual continuous child abuse, and the sexual and emotional violence I survived in my twenties do not define me; they certainly do influence my art which is therapy for me that turns trauma into triumph. As my ancestors and grandmothers were sexually assaulted by men in positions of power, so was I sexually assaulted by a man of power and great influence upon society: Bill Cosbywho drugged me, raped me and threatened serious consequences on my life on more than one occasion in the early 1990’s — while he mentored me in preparation for a major guest-starring role I performed on The Cosby Show. My research unearths nuances of generational sexual violence against women from 1492 — when Columbus stumbled upon the New World and began pillaging, plundering and raping — to today’s struggle for gender equality, as I fight to seek justice, alongside nearly 60 other Cosby Survivors who have gone public. Many of us are organizing to change oppressive patriarchal laws that perpetuate misogyny. Our ultimate goal is to abolish the statute of limitations on rape and sexual assault across the nation. I use my art as a powerful weapon in this battle for gender equality and victims’ rights.
For research on the subject of sexual violence against Black women, which informs my work; I first look at the foundations of White male privilege and sexual violence against women of color in the Americas. This takes me back to 1492 when the conquistadors used rape as the linchpin of colonization. A great part of my research on the origins of sexual violence against women of color has involved the thorough reading in English and in Spanish of Bartolome’ De Las Casas’, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, I have based whole art projects on De Las Casas’ writings. The video-art piece mentioned earlier, The Legacy of Christopher Columbus, A Short Account in Technicolor which I made in 2011, is widely viewed and commented upon on YouTube across the globe. It has been used as learning material in high schools and colleges worldwide, according to teachers and professors who have informed me that they have incorporated it into their curriculum. On a personal educational level, the video served as an exercise in “DNA memory” for me and my six children who appear in the video. As well as having approximately 40% African DNA, I also have about 5% indigenous Cuban chromosomes, according to the results of my Ancestry.com genetic test. My children inherited further indigenous blood from their father, my husband. The person who plays the protagonist in the work,Dolann Adams, is more than half Native American. It was an exercise in genetic memory for her as well, relative to the institutional foundations of rape. Scholarly research and psycho-physical exploration, through reenactments of sexual violence against indigenous women of color, provide the backbone for my research on the beginnings of sexual violence against Black women in specific. The early presence of enslaved Africans on my birth island of Cuba, during its conquest, forged a relationship between Africans and indigenous people held together by threads of mutual understanding on account of the oppression both groups experienced. Africans were being kidnapped from their motherland and forced into slavery in this foreign land that occupied by a diminishing population of indigenous folk who could not survive enslavement and faced extermination through genocide. Rape was the weapon the conquistadors used to dominate both groups of people and divide them. Spirituality and a will to survive were the elements that brought these two groups of ravaged people together. I therefore codified the aforementioned video-art piece with imagery, symbols and sounds that pertain to specific and relevant Yoruba deities known as “Orishas” in the religion known as “Ifa.” I did this in order to signify the role which African religion played in Criolization, contemporaneous to the genocide of indigenous populations with which enslaved Africans mixed during colonization.
For my artwork which references violence against Black women in specific, I go to the many books written by Black feminist-social activist, bell hooks, who is currently a Distinguished Professor in Residence at Berea College, located in her home state of Kentucky. The text of bell hooks which I often reference in my creative and educational work is the chapter, “The Continued Devaluation of Black Womanhood,” in her book Ain’t I a Woman: black women and feminism, which hooks wrote in 1981 at the age of 27. The chapter illuminates the roots of the oppression of Black women and the dynamics therein which were fertilized, festered and flourished on slave plantations. According to hooks, these dynamics were the blue print for the foundation of the institutional denigration of Black women that we face today. These dynamics, according to hooks, explain the dismissal, by society at large, of the achievements of Black women and the crucial life-sustaining role that they have historically played in our society, from the time that they were nursemaids for White babies who would grow up to be their masters and dominate them, to todays modern world where Black women have been culture changers and in leadership positions. The chapter examines relationship dynamics on slave plantations between Black women-White men and Black Women-White women and Black women-Black men. Hooks theorizes that these cross-racial and cross-sexual slave plantation relationship dynamics, continue to impact relationships today.
RESEARCH ON SLAVERY AND THE PERPETUATION OF VIOLENCE AGAINST BLACK WOMEN
Even when confronting current issues of sexism, visa-vie my own rape survival and the public attention it has drawn to me; my work adheres to the subtleties and complexities of Afro-Caribbean history, folklore and religion as it relates to sexual violence against women, the byproduct of colonization and slavery. My work involves intense research on slavery. The books on slavery in my home library that I own and have read are expansive. Suffice to say that they include such favorites as Sojourner Truth’s speeches and Book of Life, Frederick Douglass’ essays and Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery, David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, Bullwhip Days: The Slaves Remember, an Oral History and Lerone Bennett’s Before the Mayflower, among many others great texts. I began developing a passion for slave history in the early 1990’s, while living in Harlem, during an era when New York City was busting with a creative rebirth of Black pride, championed by great artists such as filmmaker Spike Lee who always treated me with respect when we hung out together. All the other Black male celebrity peers of mine, who along with Spike Lee contributed to this 1990’s Neo Harlem Renaissance, also always treated me with respect. They included the likes of Ving Rhames, Eriq LeSalle, Giancarlos Esposito and other young Black male celebrities who commonly invited me to their homes where they helped me with lines that I was rehearsing for auditions or performances. Never once during these mentoring moments did they abuse their male privilege. We were all young and excited about the fervor of Black culture and history being told through our art. We exchanged books which we had read on Martin Luther King Junior, Malcolm X and Fredrick Douglass, on African Kings and Queens of which the average White person knew little.
It was an exhilarating era when I plunged proudly and delved deeply into the enslaved African origins of my being. It was also during the period that I was being abused by my father-figure mentor, Bill Cosby, known as “America’s Dad” who had redefined the popular notion of Blackness. , In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, through a fictitious character he played on TV known as “Dr. Huxtable,” Bill Cosby had elevated Blackness from a state of wrongness and badness to rightness and goodness The betrayal I experienced, when he drugged, raped and threatened me, was therefore deep. It was not only a profoundly personal and professional perfidy, but it was also a sociopolitical one. I swiftly paralleled my being drugged and raped by Bill Cosby to the bondage and raping that my enslaved African female ancestors suffered. I was aware that there were others whom Cosby was victimizing because I knew them personally and we spoke. Two of them, one Black and one White, were able to afford going to college because Bill Cosby sponsored their education, paid for their tuition, room and board. These and the other two victims of Bill Cosby whom I know personally, have not publicly disclosed the abuse that they suffered at the hands of Bill Cosby. Perhaps they feel conflicted with him having paid for their college and graduate school education. I had just graduated from college when Bill Cosby began mentoring me, began telling me that he cared for me as if I were his daughter. My education was already paid for by my real dad. I saw Bill Cosby as using his systematic decades-long drugging, domination and sexual violence against women as vehicles with which he could feel empowered among his White male peers whose respect he purchased by the presence of the hundreds of millions of dollars in his possession. The following are ways in which I equate Bill Cosby to a slaver:
Slave traders kidnapped and trafficked my African ancestors across the Atlantic and New World territories, having lured them with promises of fertile lands that would bare fruitful life. Bill Cosby enticed me with false promises of meetings with producers who would further my career, and trafficked me across state boarders where he drugged me without my knowledge and raped me, as slave masters do to their female property. The shackles that prevented my enslaved female ancestors from escaping the sexual trauma inflicted upon them by their masters were made of iron. The shackles that prevented me from fighting and fleeing were incapacitating drugs that Bill Cosby surreptitiously slipped into my bloodstream, so that he could treat my body as if it were his property, do whatever he wanted with it, and force me into sexual servitude against my will. The wounds and scars that my ancestors endured being bullwhipped to submission did not allow them to forget that they were raped. The deep cut and bruise I sustained on my left rib cage, having been drugged to disability by Bill Cosby and having consequently fallen on the sharp corner of a coffee table, did not allow me to forget that I was raped. The muzzles that the slave masters used to silence the screams of my ancestors, as they raped them on the plantations, were made of iron and called “scold bridles” and “branks.” The muzzle that Bill Cosby used to muffle my whaling, as he rammed his disgusting prickliness into the most holy place of my limp body on Elvis’ bed in Las Vegas, was made of feathers and cotton and called a “pillow” which he pushed into my face, suffocating me. I could not breathe and thought I was going to die in the darkness under the feathers in the cotton he pressed onto my nose and mouth until he ejaculated on my abdomen and lifted the pillow and I gasped for air. The drugs, like shackles, prevented me from wiping tears that trickled down my temples and welled in my ears.
For twenty-three years I’ve suffered recurring night terrors, with painful body memory, that have woken me gasping for air as my mind relives the trauma. They have subsided since my public disclosure which was like a rebirth, a lifting of a heavy weight that had choked and paralyzed me with fear. Occasionally the memories still wake me in panic from my sleep. However, it happens far less frequently now that I have shed the fear and allow myself to speak about what happened, write about what happened and make art about what happened. I’m purging the poison of rape culture silence. And yet these horrid memories which at times still resurface when triggered or when asleep are nothing compared to the flashbacks that took my enslaved female ancestors back to when they gasped for air in the darkness and stench of the bowels of the ships that sailed through the Middle Passage for months, where iron shackles on their bleeding wrists prevented them from wiping the cum from the corners of their mouths into which the slave traders forcefully crammed their cocks and released their slimy DNA while menses and feces and urine and vomit dripped and spewed on their brows, from those enslaved above them, who may have been their own children. I can only imagine the magnitude of the night terrors that, for generations, woke them from fitful abbreviated sleep on the plantations where any moment they could be raped by a predator protected by laws not entirely different from the statutes of limitation that protect Bill Cosby. The implements to which both Bill Cosby and the slave masters subjected us, to ensure our continued silence in order to perpetuate their serial raping, were threats of more abuse and violence. Another implement was the donning of fake public personas with smokescreens of piousness and philanthropy. Who would believe that “America’s Dad,” who was providing scholarships for the higher learning of so many young women, was also serially drugging and raping them over the course of forty-five years? Who would believe that the most ethical-seeming slave owner who may have been a pastor or a president was also a serial rapist? On the plantation it wasn’t considered rape, because female slaves were not women; they were chattel, property. Like my ancestors, I was too terrified to talk of the trauma to others, for fear that the duped public would persecute me and that my rapist would retaliate and possibly kill me upon finding out that I had accused him. I therefore expressed the anguish I’ve endured as a victim of Bill Cosby’s serial raping, through paintings I’ve created of slave ancestors in which I disguise myself and see myself.
RESEARCH ON BLACK MALE BYSTANDER RESPONSE TO RAPE OF BLACK WOMEN
DNA memory (or epigenetic memory) has been a hot item of discussion among scientist. The term, “epigenetic memory,” was coined when scientific research revealed that “a growing body of evidence suggests that environmental stresses can cause changes in gene expression that are transmitted from parents to their offspring.” (Science Daily, September 18, 2014). Research at major universities on fruit flies and mice suggests that offspring who have not been exposed to any form of pain, react to signals unknown to them with the same behavior of fear and anxiety as did their parents who were subjected to pain in conjunction with the signal. In other words, descendants remembered trauma which their predecessors experienced. Scientific research on epigentic memory has shown that “genetic imprint from traumatic experiences carries through at least two generations.” (Scientific American, December 1, 2013). Slavery and its intrinsic culture of rape have endured far more than two generations. The perpetuity of sexual trauma prevents the erasure of DNA memory for descendants of rape perpetrators, victims and bystanders.
I have observed such DNA memory impact societal behavior in contemporary rape culture, through my experience in speaking out against my rapist who was one of the most beloved Negros of all time among White, Black, Brown, Yellow and Red people across the globe. Since Bill Cosby’s arrest, the vast majority of malicious and menacing public comments directed at me and private messages that I receive have been overwhelmingly from Black men. Prior to Cosby’s arrest the hate towards me and my fellow Cosby survivors was evenly dispersed among all races, from people all over the globe. I understand the reason that some Black men who do not know me, have lashing out at me, since Bill Cosby’s arrest. It is a reflexive response, triggered from seeing their iconic father-figure arrested and arraigned. I know from personal experience, being married to a Black male civil rights attorney with whom I birthed five sons and one daughter, that being Black and male seriously compromises one’s safety and extrajudicially threatens one’s mortality. The Black Lives Matter movement addresses the wrongful, racially-based, murder and institutional oppression of Black black people in general, male and female. The founders of the movement are three Black women: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. The impetus of their organizing was their outrage over the acquittal of Treyvon Martin’s killer, David Zimmerman.
It is common to see a group of Black women stand up together in protest of the wrongful death or obstruction of civil rights of Black boys and men. It is not as common, however, to see a group of Black men, or any single Black man, stand up to protest the raping or the obstruction of civil liberties of Black women. After having attended President Obama’s last State of the Union Address on Jan 12, 2016, Black Lives Mater co-founder Alicia Garza wrote and publish an article entitled, “Obama Overlooked Black Women.” In it she criticizes the president for failing to pay tribute to Black female victims of wrongful death, many whose stories have headlined major press and media news outlets. She alludes to Black women often being at the helm in organizing movements designed to protect civil rights of Black people. “Black women seem to participate the most actively in democracy, and get the least from it. Our issues tend to be the afterthought and our voices continue to be ignored,” she writes.
I am in agreement with Alicia Garza. Her observation rings true in the Cosby serial rape saga. When I first came public about the emotional and sexual violence I endured at the hands of Bill Cosby, my longtime friend Beverly Johnson warned me that I would begin receiving a plethora of hate mail and pernicious public comments pointed at me. She informed me that the majority of such comments and the worst of them were from White men. She told me to “get ready.” She was right. Some of the White men who attacked me online were rifle wielding military fatigue-wearing zealots from the Southern United States. Others were machine-gun toting Neo-Nazis in combat gear attacking me online from Scandinavia. All of them, as racist as they appeared were insulting me in defense of their beloved Bill Cosby. It’s as if they were all thinking, “How dare you accuse my good house Nig’!” After Bill Cosby’s arrest, the demographics of trolls and Cosby apologists spewing their vitriol at me flipped. Now, the gross majority of abuse to which I’m subjected online hales from Black men.
The effects of genetic memory upon contemporary Black men, relative to how they react or fail to react to the suffering of Black women is notable. The root in the inaction of many Black men is grounded in the genetic memory of their enslaved ancestors having been bystanders to sexual trauma inflicted upon Black women by White men. Black men on plantations and in the antebellum Jim Crow South learned that interfering in the rape of a Black women would result in serious ramifications for the Black man. Rather than attempt to obstruct the violence unleashed upon Black women, or to hold accountable the White male perpetrator; Black men learned to do nothing. They learned to abandon rather than protect Black women under attack and duress. Such inaction in their own bystander status was necessary for their self preservation, as it was for their ancestors. In fairness to Black men, attempts to thwart attacks upon a Black women by White men, could also compromise the safety others. Slave masters were creative in the threats they concocted in order to dissuade Black men from attempted to intervene in the rape of a Black woman. Sometimes slave masters threatened injury or death upon not only the Black man wanting to intervene, but also on his kin, his children, his sons, daughters and parents. Rather than risk the lives of those vulnerable beloved; Black women learned to submit to rape and Black men learned to abandon Black women for the preservation of the descendants of both. This survival tactic caused some Black men to feel trapped and stripped of their masculinity. They felt disempowered. Some Black men took to mimicking Slave masters and raped Black women, in order to empower themselves and elevate their status to the privilege of White men. They could not assert their power by retaliating by raping White women, for that would surely result in their demise or retribution upon family members. White women, though less privilege than White men, were still viewed as fully human. Black women were viewed as chattel, as only 3/5 human. Society taught that Black women lacked human values which would deem them worthy of being protected and salvaged. In the chapter “The Imperialism of Patriarchy” of bell hooks Ain’t I A Woman, she writes, “Black men are able to dismiss the suffering of Black women as unimportant because sexist socialization teaches them to see women as objects with no human value or worth.” On account of the submission necessary for survival on the plantation or in the Jim Crow South, Black women were viewed as wanting to be raped. They were labeled as “temptresses” and were unjustly blamed for the rape. According to bell hooks, society viewed Black women as “sexual latrines” to which White men had relegated them. Sadly, I have seen this dynamic echoed in society today, as a Cosby Survivor.
More than a dozen of Cosby’s victims who have disclosed publicly are Black women, including me. We have become like sisters. In our private discourse we have lamented about “brothers’ abandoning us, about their not speaking out in support of us when we are revictimized — publicly shamed, blamed and defamed. Understandably, the sight of authorities ushering Bill Cosby into a courthouse reminds Black males of moments when they have been profiled and perhaps even battered by police. However, White institutional violence against Black men, is no excuse for Black men to dismiss, abandon or abuse Black women or any woman for that matter. PTSD does not excuse Black men from wrongfully calling us “lying whores” or wishing death on us when we publicly and rightfully accuse an admired Black man of having serially drugged and raped us. One of the most misogynistic and contemptuous comments that a Black man posted to my public Instagram page, shortly after Cosby’s arrest, attacked my seven year old (Black) daughter, whose beautiful and innocent image appears on my page. This adult Black male wrote: “Yo daughter going to grow up and be a lying ass bitch just like her piece of shit mother.” Certainly, this “brother” could benefit from reading bell hooks. I’m currently creating an art project comprised of these abusive public comments and private messages I’ve received from society at large, since my public disclosure of the emotional and sexual violence I suffered at the hands of the powerful and beloved Bill Cosby. Part of the purpose of the work is to illuminate the rampant sexism that exists within racism.
RESEARCH ON MY ANCESTRY AND FAMILY HISTORY WITH REGARD TO RACISM AND RAPE
The codification of Afro-Cuban folklore and religion in my work, pertaining to sexual trauma and survival, requires that I delve deeply into these horrifying memories and traumatic family history. It is research in the form of a painful exploration of ghastly experiences lived and relived by me and my ancestors. My aforemetioned Antebellum Appropriation painting, Caroline, which commemorates the raping of my poor Black great-grandmother Caroline Dyce by my rich White great-grandfather William Bernard for whom Caroline was a maidservant (to William, his White wife and their children) in Kingston, Jamaica – is a painting that reflects the history of most colonized Black people. Caroline bore three children as a result of being raped by William, one being my father’s mother. Had it not been for that rape, I would not have been born. Surviving rape played a pivotal role in the preservation of my paternal lineage. My mother’s mother, Princesa’s violent rape at the age of 14, also in Kingston, Jamaica, resulted in the birth of my Aunt Epe. Had it not been for Princesa’s resilience and will to survive; she would not have gone on to birth my mother. Outside of the potentially life-threatening nature of the act of rape; it is not uncommon for rape survivors to tend towards self-destruction either through addiction, prostitution, depression, self harm or attempts at suicide. Several serious suicide attempts in the immediate aftermath of the sexual and emotional violence that I suffered at the hands of Bill Cosby found me hospitalized; hence the reference to suicide in many of my works of art. I’ve since learned that suicide is not an option and that I must survive for myself and my descendants. My spiritual historically-based art creation plays a crucial role in my survival. I look towards my enslaved ancestors and raped grandmothers with a sense of responsibility to continue their legacy, to become their dream come true, to follow their example of finding creative vehicles through which to purge the poison of oppression while positively impacting society.
The archiving in my artwork and writing of my grandmother and great-grandmother having been victims of rape are points of contention for my parents, as well as for some of my siblings and some of our extended family members. They scold me voraciously over the personal and sexually violent content of my artwork. They chide me for publicly revealing the generational history of rape in our family. I explain to these protesting family members that our story belongs not exclusively to us. It is the story of many, if not most, Black people in the Americas. It is a story that is currently missing and needs to be told and archived in the annals of art history. I tell these irritated family members that the irrational shame they feel over the sexually violent origins of our family that inspire them to attempt to prohibit me from sharing our story, through my art and writing, only perpetuates rape culture. I remind them that silencing of victims enables sexual predators and that for hundreds of years rapists have relied upon that silence in order to continue perpetrating their crimes. I tell them that speaking out is the first step in combating victim blaming and shaming, a rape culture dynamic that has plagued plantations, my great-grandmother and grandmothers’ generations, and my own life as I struggle to seek to heal and find justice against a most popular, powerful and prolific predator who victimized me and so many others. I feel a strong connection with the souls of my ancestors, impelling me to tell their stories as my story.
As I have always equated my having been drugged and raped by Bill Cosby to slavery; so have I likened my survival of the abuse as my having survived a war, as did my Abuelo, El Mambí. Whereas the Spaniards waged war against my grandfather and his comrades on mountainous verdant territories; Bill Cosby waged chemical and sexual warfare on the luscious landscape of my youthful body. Instead of a rifle, like the Spanish soldiers wielded in an attempt to maintain their power over Cuba; Bill Cosby clandestinely maneuvered drugs to conquer and ravish my body for his benefit and his empowerment. The difference between war veterans and rape survivors, however, is that war veterans are generally lauded, supported and protected — whereas rape survivors are shunned, abandoned and revictimized. Women who are survivor of rape often have only each other, ourselves and God to whom to turn for complete understanding and support. It is therefore that women and religion play pivotal roles as subjects in my artwork. I use religious symbolism in my artwork to show the important role which spirituality has played in the survival of female victims of sexual violence. My work unearths the intersection between feminism and spirituality, from a cultural and historical perspective relative to my life experiences. It does this through the use of Afro-Caribbean iconography that assists the narrative of each work.
RESEARCH ON AFRO-CUBAN RELIGION, PHILOSOPHY AND FOLKLORE
For the sake of authenticity and accuracy, with regard to religious symbolism and iconography, my research therefore requires that I interrogate and be counseled by Babalaos, which are high priests of the Yoruba religion, known as Ifa. Through Creolization and its syncronism, Ifa gave rise to the religion of Santeria, widely practiced in my birth island of Cuba. To avoid persecution, the enslaved Yoruba people on the island cleverly concealed their Orishas (Yoruba deity) behind the names of Catholic saints with similar attributes. Elegua (the Orisha of the three crossroads often seen as a child) is paired with EL Santo Niño de Atocha (the Christ Child); Changó (the warrior Orisha who wields lightning to bear truth) is paired with Santa Barbara (saved by lightning speaking God’s truth to patriarchy corrupt); Bababalu Ayé (the male Orisha who brings and takes away sickness for the purposes of retribution and healing) is paired with San Lazaro (the poor beggar full of festering wounds which dogs licked and who found himself privileged and luxuriating in Abraham’s bosom in heaven); Yemayá (the female Orisha of the ocean waves who is the mother of all fish and believed to have accompanied the slaves across the Middle Passage) is paired with La Virgen de Regla (Havana’s patron saint, the Blessed Mother, with origins in Spain); Ochun (the female Orisha of love, sexuality, motherhood and creativity) is paired with La Virgen de La Caridad del Cobre (Cuba’s patron saint, also the Blessed Mother Mary, but housed in a cathedral in Santiago de Cuba where I was born); Nana Baruku (the grandmother of all children, who despises sexual predators and consoles rape victims) is paired with Santa Ana (Jesus’ grandmother, the Blessed Virgin’s mother); and so on. My research requires that I therefore have to read the Bible meticulously in order to fully comprehend the sophisticated synchronism of Orishas with Catholic saints that my enslaved Yoruba ancestors concocted, in order to survive practicing their religion in Cuba.
The presence of all these Catholic Saints and their relative Yoruba deities (Orishas) as subjects or signifiers in my artwork, plays a central role in the narrative of most works of the art that I create. There are over 800 Orishas. I have studied dozens of them. Similar to Saints, each Orisha has certain characteristics and iconography that signify them. They have specific folklore, personality, interests, colors, numbers, vesture, dance moves, likes and dislikes, taboos, favorite foods and animals, spouses, children, objects and habitats that identify them. Sometimes the Orishas appear figuratively in my artwork. Other times they are alluded to abstractly and conceptually, as in my installation Orishas Through the Crossroads and the Gate. Coupled with extensive research I conduct — on the complexities of Ifa and its Orishas as they relate to racism, sexism, trauma and survival — visa-vie consultations with Babalaos, heated discussions with resentful family members about the history of sexual violence in our lineage and my fascination over Santeria, and the delving into my own personal experiences with sexual trauma, is my constant reading of publications by philosophers and historians who individually specialize in three different academic subjects: Afro-Caribbean folklore, violence against Black women, and Black identity as it pertains to the subconscious association of Blackness with wrongness, resulting from colonialism.
For the Afro-Caribbean philosophical and folkloric content of my art, the book to which I refer the most is Flash of the Spirit, written in 1983 by Robert Farris Thompson, retired professor of Yale University who served as the Master of Yale’s Timothy Dwight College from 1978-2010. Thompson is one of the premiere historians on Black religious art and philosophy throughout the African diaspora. He spent many years living in Yoruba Land (Nigeria) and the Kongo while conducting his research. He is also a White male. I have verified the veracity of Thompson’s work through consultations with Babalaos and Palero’s (high priest of the Afro-Cuban religion known as “Palo,” meaning “stick” which resulted from Criolization of the Kongo religion of Africa). These Afro-Cuban high priests have affirmed to me that Thompson’s research and scholarship are accurate and anointed. Similarly, I fact-checked Thompson’s writings with professor Moyo Okediji, an Ifa-practicing Nigerian professor of art history at the University of Texas, Austin who is the founder of University of African Art in which I was the featured artist for one of their discussions. Okediji responded to my inquiry with the following: “Robert Farris T is a pioneer. I like his work.” He also recommended that I incorporate into my research books on Ifa written by Wande Abimbola, who is a highly published Nigerian academician specializing in Yoruba language, literature, culture and religion. Abimbola’s book to which I refer principally for my research on Yoruba religion and culture in the African diaspora is Ifa Will Mend Our Broken World, written in 1997. Knowledge I acquired from reading the writings of Wande Abimbola, Robert Ferris Thompson, Frantz Fanon and bell hooks all contribute significantly to my art-making. Many of my works directly reference specific passages from their writings, such as my installation,Ain’t Funny (2014), which is composed of sculpture, video-art and photography.
Ain’t Funny installation conflates KiKongo and Ifá religious iconograpgy with that of Christianity, namely the Passion of Christ. It uses Afro-European religious synchrenism as trope to elicit discussion of racism, past and present. My eldest son, Rafael, who was 16 at the time that I made this work, is the subject in the video, photography, and a portion of the sculpture. In the conceptual and highly metaphoric video-art portion of this Ain’t Funny installation, I use my relationship with Rafa as the vehicle to discuss the profiling, objectification, stereotyping and criminalizing of young Black men. Rafa’s movement in relation with the objects in the video illuminate the emotional impact of racism on a young Black man and the mother who loves him. The installation takes the viewer through time — from the lynching of Black Laura Nelson and her 14 year old son L.D. Nelson, in 1911, when the White mob hung them together on a bridge in Oklahoma — to the lynching of Black Mary Turner in 1918 at the age of 19 when she was 8 months pregnant and the White mob burnt her and hung her upside down and sliced her baby out of her belly and stomped him to death — to the wrongful killing ofTrayvon Martin in 2012 which impacted my family and this nation greatly, and gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement. In the wake of Trayvon’s murder; my husband and I had many anxeity-filled conversations with our five Black sons who were ages 7, 10, 11, 12, and 14 at the time that 28-year-old White-Hispanic George Zimmerman killed 17 year old unarmed Black Trayvon Martin who had no criminal record and was merely walking home in the rain with a hoodie on his head to keep himself warm and dry. My husband and I anxiously tried to instill in our five young Black sons survival skills for self-preservation. We reminded them, over and over again, why they can’t wear their huddies on their heads when in public, even when it’s cold – unless they’re with us. We led our five Black sons through exercises of how to behave submissively when the police stop them for walking down the sidewalk. Our only daughter was just four at the time of these discussions (which we continue to have) so we did not expose her to the talks. Like my video-art piece on The Legacy of Christopher Columbus, a Short Account in Technicolor, this video-art piece, Ain’t Funny, has been used in classroom discussions, according to educators who have contacted me to so inform me. Artist-professor Mary Anna Pomonis wrote to me that she used the Ain’t Funny video in both her Los Angeles public high school classrooms and her college level classerooms. She said that the work evoked strong emotional responses from the students and elicited passionate conversation.
RESEARCH ON LACK OF DIVERSITY IN ACADEMIA AND THE ARTS
My research for assuming the role of an educator parallels my teaching philosophy. It is wholly centered around the excavation of information that is currently most lacking in art academia, as it pertains to sexism and racism born of colonialism. The omission of information relevant to a student’s interests is a deterrence to the edification of that student. Absence of multicultural information taught in art academia inadvertently helps to sustain White supremacy and provides a fertile breeding ground for micro-agressions of racism which students of color suffer in art school. However, other fields of art suffer similar racist dynamics.
The film industry is often on the forefront of this issue as it grapples with the lack of diverse representation in the media arts. When speaking of the impetus behind the boycotting of the 2016 Oscars on account of its failure to acknowledge media artists of color for two years in a row, actor Wil Smith commented, “Diversity is the American super power. That’s why we are great.” (ABC News, January 21, 2016). The debate around the failure of the Academy to recognize artists of color has touched on the fact that the decision making body of the Academy is comprised almost exclusively of White males. Gate keepers tend to cater to their own interests. Necessary for the avoidance of this constant marginalizing that has once again resulted in all-White nominees for major categories in the 2016 Oscars is an integration of the Academy decision makers.
Similarly, in art academia, necessary for the avoidance of the dismissal and isolation that students of color experience is the hiring of professors of color who can introduce and facilitate pertinent classes currently missing from graduate and undergraduate art curricula. Access to multicultural educational information, for students of all colors including White, is needed in order to help keep art institutions relevant and contemporary. The crux of the dearth of multicultural reading material and information being taught in art academia is that faculty demographics do not represent student demographics nor, at times, the demographics of the communities surrounding the institutions. A professor cannot teach what they do not know. Consequently, students of color are denied the privilege of seeing themselves reflected in their professors, their reading material, writing assignments, and in their institution’s pedagogy as a whole. This problem in the lack of diverse knowledge disseminated results in racial micro-aggressions which personally impact and alienate students of color, impeding their work productivity. It can be swiftly corrected by hiring more faculty of color.
Homogeneity in art academia curricula and student body demographics is a reflection of the characteristically homogeneous nature of boards of directors and the full-time art school faculty whom they hire. They are the decision-makers. On the rare occasion when a faculty hiring committee decides to hire a Latino as a fulltime professor of art, it is often a White Hispanic male whom they choose. Similarly, on the rare occasion when an art institution hires a Black fulltime professor, it is usually a male. Below is a chart I composed in 2013 of my research on the demographics of full-time faculty in Southern California visual arts departments at the time. I conducted my research by interviewing administrators of the most prominent art schools in Southern California and requesting pertinent information from them.
Here is what my research revealed on the demographics of fulltime faculty in the top six prominent art schools in Southern California in the Spring of 2013: of the 179 total numbers of art professors, 150 were White with an almost even male to female ratio; 12 of them were Asian with equal male to female ratios; 10 of them were Black with more than twice as many men than women; 7 of them were Latinos, all male, not a single female. The staggering reality is that despite the Latino population comprising the majority of Southern California residents, more than half of them being female; in 2013 there were zero Latina (Hispanic women) full-time professors in the six most prominent art schools that I surveyed, and barely any Black and Asian professors.
Here are the percentages: 83.80% White with a 8/7 male/female ratio, 6.70% Asian with a 6/6 male/female ratio, 5.59% Black with a 7/3 male/female ratio, and 3.91% Latin with a 7/0 male/female ratio.
Demographics of Full Time Visual Art Professors in Southern California in Spring 2013
To see an example of how homogeneity in fulltime faculties reflects in the demographics of authors of reading material assigned in art history and theory classes, click here to view the syllabus of required reading material for one of my first year Graduate Public Practice classes at my alma mater, Otis College of Art and Design, which I attended from 2012-2014. In this list, I annotated the sex and race of each author assigned. The demographic ratios of authors assigned to read were 66% White male (2 of which were White Hispanic males), 31% White females, 2% Asian females, 1% Asian males, Zero Latina (Hispanic females of any race), and Zero Black (male and female). This was the trend of reading material assigned in all of my art history and theory classes in graduate art school.
RESEARCH ON SEXISM WITHING RACIST CONSTRUCTS IN CURATORIAL PRACTICES
Institutional sexist dynamics within racist constructs is reflected in art museum and gallery operations as well as in art schools. Misogyny is a particularly prevalent problem in the mainstream art curatorial practices across the nation. Los Angeles-based artist-activist Professor Micol Hebron brings attention to this problem in her Gallery Tally Poster Project in which I am among the plethora of contributing artists. Considered by many to be the current hotbed of contemporary visual artists, the city of Los Angeles is not immune to this problem.
Within the marginalization of female artist exhibiting in the US, is a subgroup of the most underpresented artists: Black women. Galleries and Museums do a far-better job at representing Black male artists than they do Black female artists. Many A-List and mid-career Black male artists with either national or global recognition have haled from Los Angeles in one form or another, whether through birth, residency or attendance at L.A. art schools. Such artists include Mark Bradford, Kehinde Wiley, Kerry James Marshall, John Outterbridge, Charles Gaines, Rodney McMillian, Henry Taylor, Edgar Arceneaux, Noah Davis, Kori Newkirk and Kahlil Joseph. All these men (Noah Davis being recently deceased at a young age) have enjoyed the privilege of seeing their works exhibited in major museums and art galleries across the nation and the world.
In recent years, Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) has hosted a number of solo shows of Black male artists, including Theaster Gates, Steve McQueen, Kahlil Joseph, William Pope L and Noah Davis. A major retrospective of Kerry James Marshall’s work is slated for March 12-July 2, 2017 at MoCA. Whereas Los Angeles museums currently appear to be making a conscientious effortto privilege the works of at least a few Black artists through solo and group shows featuring their works; representation of Black female artists in LA art museums remains bleak. In comparison to the six aforementioned Black male artist solo shows hosted at MoCA, only one solo show is projected for a Black female artist at MoCA: Mickalene Thomas, October 9, 2016 through January 29, 2017. This reflects a ratio of six times more Black male artists being exhibited in recent years at MoCA than the one female. The last time MoCA featured a solo show of a Black female artist was a decade ago, in 2006: Lorna Simpson. The MoCA museum website offers no images of her work in the show, nor information outside of the dates it occurred. They make no mention of even the title of her show.
This gross exclusion and mishandling of Black female artists is reflected in the other two of L.A.’s top three art museums: the Hammer Museum UCLA and Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Similar to the 6:1 Black male to Black female recent solo exhibition ratio found at MoCA; LACMA has a ratio of 5:1. The first solo show of a Black artist at LACMA premiered as late as October 23, 2011. Five more solo shows of Black artists at LACMA followed. All of this was due to the integrating efforts of the well-seasoned curator, Franklin Sirmans, who is African American and who served as LACMA’s department head and chief curator of contemporary art, from January 2010 – October 2015. He ended his tenure to assume the role of Director of Miami’s Pérez Museum where he currently presides. Of the six Black artists for whom LACMA has hosted solos shows, the one female wasShinique Smith in 2013. Her LACMA show was actually a quasi “solo museum show” for reasons which I will explain. The other five Black artists (all male) were Glenn Ligon, Sam Doyle, Archibald Motley andNoah Purifoy. LACMA privileged the works of all these male artists by presenting their solo shows on LACMA’s main campus.
Such was not the case for Shinique Smith whom the museum ostracized from its main campus. Her “solo museum show” occurred more than five miles away, at a satellite exhibition space at the Charles White Elementary School, situated in the more economically deprived neighborhood of Westlake, L.A. The school occupies the former campus of my Alma Mater, Otis College of Art and Design. Concerns over the crime rate in the adjacent MacArthur Park and high gang activity in the neighborhood were the impetuses for Otis to relocate westward. This museum satellite exhibition space within a public elementary school campus is part of a community partnership between LACMA and Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD). The principal viewers of the exhibit, therefore, were disadvantaged young Latino children who comprise more than 93% of this low-ranking public school. While a museum’s commitment to serving disenfranchised communities is to be lauded; Shinique’s “solo museum show” functioned more as a youth service project rather than a solo museum exhibition of a world-class artist with superior credentials who is represented by highbrow New York City galleriesand whose work has received rave reviews in such major periodicals as New York Times and ArtNews Magazine. Whereas most solo shows of contemporary artists at LACMA command reviews in either The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, KCET ArtBound, or other prominent art periodicals; Shinique’s “solo museum show” at LACMA’s satellite space was not reviewed. The cause for the lack of mainstream attention was clearly not due to the content of the work, but rather to the low exposure on account of the remote and notoriously dangerous location, and perhaps the museum’s failure to adequately promote the show. The only mention the show received in a major periodical was a short announcement in LA Weekly on the workshop Shinique was scheduled to conduct for the school children, as well as a write-up on the youth workshop in LA Observed. Moreover, the show was not technically a solo exhibition because it also contained the works of Charles White Elementary School students and of other artists from LACMA’s Textile and Costume Collection whose works relate to Shinique’s.
When writing about the devaluation of Black female artists relative to Los Angeles museums, LA Times art critic Carolina A. Miranda ends the title of one of her articles with, “representation remains weak.”(Los Angels Times, July 20, 2015). [Note to myself: write here about Franklin Sirmans leaving his footrpint in LA by inspiring other LA major museums to follow suit and commit to showing more works by Black artists. He was able to do this because of his Blackness. Write about the Hammer Museum-BAILA Roundtable and the racist comment the curator made, then continue with . . . ] On October 28, 2014, the Hammer Museum UCLA hosted an onstage conversation between two celebrated feminist chief curators, each with a history of leading curatorial departments of major museums across the nation: Connie Butler, current Chief Curator of the Hammer Museum and Helen Molesworth current Chief Curator of MoCA. Both women spoke of their commitment to equitable representation of artists, regarding gender and race. They touted upcoming solo exhibitions of Black artists, Mark Bradford and Charles Gaines. They made no mention of any plans for solos shows of Black female artists. During the Q&A portion of the conversation, I asked if they, as feminist curators, had any interest in creating space to exhibit the works of Black artists who don’t have penises. (Click here to view the video of my question and their answer.) [Note to myself: write here about Now Dig This gender ratios and Naima Keith’s new appt. at CAAM and how hopeful we BAILA are].
In fairness to Connie Butler and Helen Molesworth, it should be mentioned that White-run museums are not the only museums omitting the works of Black female artists. Even museums run by a predominantly Black boards and staff, whose focus is work created by Black artists, are highly exclusionary with regard to the gender of artists in their exhibitions and collections. This discrimination against Black female artists is visible at the California African American Museum where Black female artists are sparsely represented and the works of non-Black female artist have been exhibited more often than the works of Black female artists, according to my research. This problem of the barring of works by Black female artists from both White and Black-run museums and art institutions, though subconsciously misogynistic it may be, is echoed across the U.S. On the opposite coast of our great nation exists perhaps the most prominent and lauded institution that promotes, exhibits and archives the works of Black artists: Studio Museum of Harlem (SMH) in New York City. Their archival investment, however, is staggeringly skewed towards men. A simple tally of the works in their permanent collection, according to their website, reveals that out of the 115 works in SMH’s permanent collection, only 24 of them are created by Black women. That translates to the collection containing almost 5 times the amount of work made by men as opposed to women. A look at the demographics of art school students and Black exhibiting artists ascertains that the Studio Museum’s permanent collection is unjustifiably gender biased, exponentially favoring men.
Indeed there is a much needed strategic overhaul to be made in museums so that Black female artists and artists of color in general, especially female, can be fairly represented. The same is true for art schools. I am capable of playing a key role in the integration of art school pedagogy and hiring practices in order to help obliterate the systematic erasure of Black and Latino women from art academia. As a Black Latina immigrant of mixed descent, a multilingual world-traveling Afro-Cuban feminist mother of six who is also a public-figure sexual assault survivor and anti-rape activist, as a multidisciplinary artist who lives and has exhibited extensively in what is considered to be the current mecca of visual artists (Los Angeles), and as a critically acclaimed occasional independent curator andpublished writer who received her MFA from Otis in 2014 while serving as a longtime arts education-based volunteer community organizer who is well-connected; I am in a unique position to authentically and sensationally contribute to the cultural and sociopolitical enrichment of any art school, on account of my life experiences and my active research.
I tend to focus my research on Black female artists because we are the most underrepresented group of artists in the mainstream art scene. However, my unique ability to insightfully teach about the art-making concepts and processes of a plethora of artists of all colors and both genders, celebrated and marginalized, stems from how I position myself in the mainstream art scene. Through personal relationships I have formed exhibiting with a multitude of artists and through studio visits I conduct for curatorial, scholarly and soulful purposes; I have gained intimate knowledge of the works of an abundance of artists, Black, Brown and White, to whom I will expose my students. I will challenge my students to think and create critically and to express themselves intellectually while positioning their work alongside dynamic artists to whom they will be intimately exposed.
This concludes the description of my support research.
LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION
To: AICAD Post-MFA Teaching Fellowship Committee, Jan 30, 2016
From: Charles Gaines, Faculty, California Institute of the Arts
I am writing this letter of recommendation to support Lili Bernard’s application for the AICAD Post-MFA Teaching Fellowship. I have known Lili for over 5 years, but it has been in the last two years or so that I had come to know her practice intimately. I recruited her to apply for the graduate program in art at CalArts. She decided to attend the graduate program at Otis College of Art & Design, where she ultimately received her MFA. While there I was asked by Otis to do an independent study with her. During this time we had long critical discussions about art and her practice.
Rather than writing about Lili’s work directly, I would like to write about its critical importance and contribution. Lili is a very complicated and gifted artist who has dedicated her practice to exploring the political, religious and social practices that make up the cultural legacy of her life and history. She also employs narrative and representational strategies that use Eurocentric models and forms of storytelling to reveal the history of European colonizing practices that were designed or whose effect it was to erase the culture of the colonized. Lili does this through a painting and sculptural installation practice that expresses this history through an aesthetic language that forms an analogy with traditional practices, and in so doing, realizes a political critique of modernism. For example, some of the installations feature traditional Caribbean religious ritualistic practices that are being considered not only ethnographically or anthropologically, but also from within their own aesthetics resulting in an interesting merging of anthropological and aesthetic tropes. The anthropological helps form a political critique of Western imperialist practices that colonized the regions of her ancestors while simultaneously addressing the idea and experience of the expressive object. In this case, her subjectivity is revealed aesthetically through her attempts to imagine traditional practices from within the contemporary moment. This reimagined narrative, which conflates the traditional with the contemporary, allows for Lili, an allegorical narrative space to tell personal stories. The very tricky undertaking here is to understand this as a critical gesture more than a poetic one, which problematically embraces, in the case of the poetic, the Eurocentric idea of the expressive subject, a concept that celebrates individualism over community. Therefore, the use of both the tropes of criticality as well as the poetic avoids a hypocritical position of rejecting one Eurocentric colonizing strategy while embracing another. (Rejecting Eurocentric narratives while embracing Eurocentric forms of expression). The history of racist and colonial practices can be investigated by engaging forms and practices rooted in traditional institutions while simultaneously engaging those forms and practices poetically to retell the narratives.
Lili Bernard has my highest recommendation. I hope she receives this honor for many reasons beyond just the high quality of her practice. She is also one of the most sincere and hard-working artists I know.
Charles Gaines, Faculty,
California Institute of the Arts
To: AICAD Post-MFA Teaching Fellowship Committee, January 30, 2016
From: Suzanne Lacy, Department Head, Graduate Public Practice Program, Otis College of Art & Design
I am writing to recommend Lili Bernard for the AICAD Post-MFA Teaching Fellowship. In 2014 Lili received her MFA from Otis College of Art & Design’s Graduate Public Practice Program of which I am the founder and department head. She was a two-year recipient of Otis’ prestigious Board of Governors Fellowship and graduated with two other distinct honors: Graduate Public Practice Class Marshall, which is a student-elected award, and Certificate of Honors for Outstanding Contribution, which is a faculty-elected award.
I have followed Lili’s art career since 2007 when Lili founded and began organizing a long-term community art project called HABLA: Harvesting Asian Black Latino Artists. Lili ran HABLA from her art studio in the Chinatown L.A. art district for five years. In the space, Lili created her own prolific body of artwork while offering her studio as a multicultural public art space for underrepresented artists, including White artists. Her programming was sophisticated, educational, and provided a wealth of opportunities for other artists.
While a student in our program, Lili exhibited her artwork extensively in mainstream galleries and museums, alongside prominent artist such as Judy Chicago, Betye Saar and Ruth Weisberg. Lili’s Black Latin feminist artwork uniquely merges Afro-Caribbean and European aesthetics while metaphorically addressing issues of racism and sexism. Her work incites question, conversation and emotion. I have often seen her work, when in exhibitions, draw attention from large crowds who linger before her compositions for extended periods. Typically, when Lili is in a group show, her work is among those that are highlighted in reviews, often featured in such prominent periodicals as ArtNews, LA Weekly, KCET ArtBound and Tikkun Magazine, among others.
Lili maintained her commitment to privileging marginalized artists, while she was a student in our program. She continued to connect her peers with mainstream art players, inviting the Otis community to participate. Outside of her performative public engagement artwork, a large portion of her social practice work has been a perpetual and pedagogical community art project that she founded in 2011 called BAILA: Black Artists in Los Angeles, dedicated to enriching and advancing the careers of Black L.A.-based artists. During her first semester in our program, Lili single-handedly curated a historical, critically acclaimed exhibition at the Watts Towers Arts Center, called BAILA con Duende, which featured the works of 75 Black L.A. artists — from world famous art stars to emerging ones. She organizes roundtable discussions between BAILA and mainstream art institutions such as Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Hammer Museum UCLA, and the Getty Museum.
At her MFA exhibition, Lili brought together artists from various fields in a public engagement ensemble performance piece that incorporates installation, entitled, Donning and Dismissal of the Conqueror’s Coiffure, using Afro-Cuban iconography, folklore, religion, live drumming, music, and dance as tropes to challenge Eurocentric standards of beauty. Her MFA exhibition also included paintings, sculpture, video-art, and a conceptual installation called Orishas Through the Crossroads and the Gate, which invites guests to play a game of foursquare that poetically explores the impacts of colonialism, regarding boundaries and movement.
Lili is also an eloquent and superior academic writer. Her sophisticated rhetoric and vocabulary mirror her high intellectualism. While in our program, she wrote two articles that were published in the Huffington Post Art Section, and spoke as a panelist at the 2014 CAA (College Art Association) Conference in Chicago. It is with the highest regard that I recommend Lili as a recipient of the ACAID Post-MFA Teaching Fellowship.
Department Head, Graduate Public Practice Program, Otis College of Art & Design
To: William H. Johnson Prize Jury, September 20, 2015
From: Franklin Sirmans, Director, Pérez Art Museum Miami
I am writing to recommend Lili Bernard for the William H. Johnson Prize.
I have followed Lili’s art career since 2011, when she began inviting me to roundtable discussions that she organizes between BAILA: Black Artists in Los Angeles and mainstream art institutions. Lili hosted two such roundtables between BAILA and LACMA in which my colleague Brooke Davis Anderson and I were the guest speakers. The BAILA roundtables Lili organizes and hosts are highly attended. Lili’s ability to bring artists, curators, and institutions together, to discuss critical issues, is unparalleled. BAILA serves as an important vehicle of information sharing.
Equally impressive to Lili’s social practice skills is the critical content of the artwork she creates. I have conducted personal visits to Lili’s studio and have attended several art exhibitions in which Lili’s work is featured, including the historic BAILA con Duende, exhibition she curated single-highhandedly which featured the works of over 75 Black artists at the Watts Towers Arts Center. Her MFA solo exhibition in the spring of 2014 drew a large crowd of which I was a part.
Lili’s artwork is richly and elaborately codified with symbolism of Afro-Cuban religion and folklore. Her highly personal and historical narratives inspire much needed critical conversations on Afro-feminism, racism and colonialism.
I highly recommend Lili as a candidate of the William H. Johnson Prize.
Director, Pérez Art Museum Miami
Ashé. Maferefun Olodumaré.
(Yoruba for “And so it is. Praise be to God.”)