By Paul Hill
HOUSTON - The beauty and genius of black artists was readily apparent in a new exhibit at the University Museum at Texas Southern University (February 8 through March 22, 2008) titled "Art Official Intelligence." Texas Southern University is the second largest historically black university in the U.S. and has recently been under attack by right wing Bush cronies. Nevertheless, the University continues to maintain its dignity and commands respect for the outstanding contributions it continues to make to the Houston community. The University serves as the intellectual anchor of the African American community in Houston. It continues to further the civil rights struggle in the community as well.
Philip Stein wrote in his book about David Siqueiros, "A work of art is a shell that covers a kernel-an idea. Each shell represents the developed style of the practicing artist endeavoring to reveal his kernel idea with some degree of philosophical content." He points out that some art represents empty shells, while some represent full shells. The art in the exhibit I saw today represented full shells to be sure.
According to the press release, the exhibition was "organized in part by Soular Renaissance artistic duo, photographer and DJ Jason 'Flash Gordon Parks' Woods and poet and painter Eric 'Equality' Blaylock. The exhibition "highlights the artwork of emerging and well-known African American artists in Houston." It includes 60 works and "represents the innovative practices of elder artists that have been both utilized and revised by new and promising artists." The Black Arts Movement in Harlem provided the motivation and inspiration for the exhibition and illustrates the rich cultural heritage of black artists.
There were a series of black and white photographs depicting scenes from African American communities in Houston. The photos caught the beauty of children, elders and working people and provided a sharp contrast to what is normally seen in the mainstream media. A work by Robert Hodge (2008) titled "Black Middle Class" depicts a white woman with her right hand held up and the words printed below her "I make this pledge: I will not judge black people by black entertainment television." In the painting was a reproduction of a part of a dollar bill and the words "CONTRA DICTION" framing the work.
Shannon Duckworth had a series of works from her "Crackhead series." It was a stark illustration of the devastation of the crack epidemic on the African American community. Images of chains were intermixed with the abstract portraits of people using "crack" symbolizing the virtual slavery to which addicts are subjected. Girls smoking crack while tied to dollar bills magnified this imagery.
Other works dramatized how the dignity and respect of blacks have come under assault by the mainstream culture in this country. One painting by Robert Hodge showed a young black woman with a chain around her neck and the words "Young, gifted and black" surrounding her image. A work by Nathaniel Donnett featured a KKK style hooded head with an American flag underneath. Below that was a representation of a hunting rifle. The work was titled "Lil Daquan slays Goliath" and portrayed America's negative depiction and subsequent destruction of hip-hop.
A blatantly anti-capitalist work by Michael Taylor was quite striking. It was titled, "Global imbalance will evolve." The painting made reference to "Societe Generale" which has been in the news recently due to a loss of $7.2 billion as a result of fraudulent trading. Mathematical symbols and a stock market chart rounded out the reference to the horrors of capitalism.
The University Museum at Texas Southern University is one of the cultural gems of the Houston community. Inspired by the works of world renowned artist, John Biggers, it is a monument to the struggle of African Americans in this country to be recognized as legitimate contributors to our intellectual and cultural life.