This Week in Black Art: October 4- October 10

This week in Black Art, we celebrate genius and the potential for new worlds by first taking a hard look at the past. 

McArthur Genius Awards

Since 1981, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has awarded the MacArthur Fellowship, also referred to as the “Genius Award,” to individuals who demonstrate “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” The most appealing quality of this award is its no-strings-attached outcome. Fellows may use the grant for whatever they choose, and most choose to continue their creative endeavors. On Wednesday Oct. 7, 21 fellows were announced.

This year, among the winners are speculative fiction writer N.K Jemisin, cultural theorist and poet Fred Moten and literary author Jacqueline Woodson. MacArthur Fellows Managing Director Cecilia Conrad shares on the selection process, “In the midst of civil unrest, a global pandemic, natural disasters and conflagrations, this group of 21 exceptionally creative individuals offers a moment for celebration. They are asking critical questions, developing innovative technologies and public policies, enriching our understanding of the human condition, and producing works of art that provoke and inspire us.” 

Reimagining Monuments 

The largest humanities philanthropic foundation in the United States, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has announced a pledge to spend $250 million over the next five years to reimagine and redefine approaches to monuments and memorials. This initiative is the largest in the foundation’s 50-year history. The initiative responds to recent conversations and demonstrations of the country’s fraught history of public memorials, especially with Confederate monuments. This grant will provide funds to create new monuments and to remodel existing monuments.

This initiative continues prior work of the foundation, whichgave $5 million in funding support to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice that opened in 2018 in Montgomery, Alabama. The memorial, designed by Boston- based MASS Design Group, memorializes lynching victims from the South. The cite spans over six acres and includes 800 six-foot-tall monuments for the thousands who have endured racial terror. 

This summer’s unrest in response to the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and too many others, resulted in the dismantling and augmentation of Confederate monuments. Seen above is an image of Breonna Taylor projected onto a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The memorial stands in Richmond, Virginia and was adorned several times with projections of Breonna Taylor, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and others. Artist Dustin Klein, who projects these images, is one of many who are creatively responding to—and forever changing—our relationship with monuments.

The Importance of Personal Collecting 

Dr. Ralph Gomes, revered Howard University Department of Sociology and Criminology professor, passed earlier this year. This week, the auction of his diverse collection of African Diaspora artifacts began at Sloans & Kenyon Auctioneers and Appraisers based in Chevy Chase, MD. The track and field Olympian athlete from Guyana collected historical artifacts and artworks for over 50 years. 

The collection is appraised at over six figures. The collection includes artifacts of early 20th century American pop culturethat now would be deemed insensitive and inappropriate. However, these figurines of mammys and pickaninnys are a partof Black history, no matter how perverse their intent. Gomes’ family prides his collection, sharing that uncomfortable histories are still histories to be shared and moments where education and transgression may occur. 

The auction is now live at Sloans & Kenyon Auctioneers and Appraisers online and by appointment. 

Compiled by Maleke Glee

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