This Week in Black Art March 21- March 27: MoMA Partners with Jamaican Art Society, Rico Nast Mints her NFT, Museum Rethinks Relationship with Benin Bronzes and More

This week in Black art, the argument over whether “House Museums” are appropriate, especially in residential areas, seems to favor a resounding yes, based on the Chicago community’s response to bills against it. MOMA has partnered with the Jamaican Art Society. The art community is making amends for its treatment of Black artists and their history, giving back stolen artifacts and making an effort to find misplaced paintings of Jacob Lawrence. The NFT (non-fungible tokens) scene is picking up more traction everyday with rapper Rico Nasty getting on the wagon.

Above: The South Side Cultural Art Center. Photo by Alan Scott Walker.

Alderman Rescinds Bill Involving “House Museums”

A legislation proposed by Alderman Sophia King to ban the development of “house museums” in residential areas was removed at Tuesday’s meeting of Chicago’s City Council Committee on Zoning, Landmarks, and Building Standards due to growing opposition.

Ald. Sophia King, fourth ward, announced shortly before the Zoning Committee’s meeting on Tuesday that she would drop her ordinance “so that we may have a dialogue with the city as a whole.”

Despite being dropped at the outset of the hearing, the alderman’s resolution was considered by the committee, which permitted 36 minutes of testimony from several speakers who had come to oppose an ordinance Mayor Lori Lightfoot had characterized as an “overreach.”

The proposal King presented to the City Council late last year would ban museums from being constructed on land with suburban zoning classifications, while others would include neighborhood hearings with residents and the issuance of a special use permit by the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals. Cultural organizations have launched an online petition against the move and have written to Zoning Committee Chairman Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th ward, expressing their displeasure.

Earlier this year, the home in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood where Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, lived at the time the 14-year-old Black Chicagoan was tortured and murdered on a 1955 trip to Mississippi, was given city landmark status.

Rico Nasty Issues NFT

Rico Nasty makes history as one of the first female musicians to issue a special NFT—a non-fungible token—in connection with the release of her latest album, Nightmare Vacation, based on the single, OHFR? On March 19, Rico Nasty announced that her NFT would drop for auction on March 22, and the auction winner would receive an authenticated actual hammer from the OHFR? video.

The fashionable currency of NFT investments has created a global fanbase. Digital art may only be purchased in digital currencies, not your handy American Express. Many artists now use this most desired mode of trading and purchasing including Grimes, the EDM design artist and Elon Musk collaborator, who sold $5.8 million in NFTs at the end of February. And 3LAU, a fellow EDM artist, sold $11.6 million in NFTs last month. Kings of Leon became the first big artist to drop an album as an NFT only last week. As of last Monday, Steve Aoki, an icon of the music industry and well-known DJ has already sold $4.25 million in NFTs. Many musicians do not collect much in profits through streaming, which has upended the purchasing of singles and albums today, but NFTs are providing a resource that keep them from becoming the “starving artist.”

OHFR? from Rico Nasty’s first album, is available via Atlantic Records. She also will release her song’s music video, P*ssy Poppin on Friday. The next Rico album is to be released in line with her hits catalogue, Smack a B*tch, Countin’ Up, and Tia Tamera featuring Doja Cat.

Rico’s latest song, OHFR? is catchy, with a sentence, “Wow, for real?” The music video is very bold and gritty as Rico is in a punk-rock bag, projecting the hard rock star energy she’s carried since the beginning of her career, which has made her stand out in the game from the start. The NFT is a looped video of the black-and-white hammer featured in the video.

From March 22 at 9:00 a.m. EST, the NFT was opened for bidding, accompanied by a clubhouse chat with Rico Nasty. The final bid went for 1.215 Ether, or U.S. $1,948.35 from entrepreneur James Harris.

Above: O’Neil Lawrence.

Jamaica Art Society + Museum of Modern Art

The Jamaica Art Society has confirmed a collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art International Program to ensure a place for O’Neil Lawrence, chief curator of the National Gallery of Jamaica at the Center for Curatorial Leadership (CCL)/International Curatorial Institute’s 2021 version. Lawrence will be the first Jamaican curator from the island to take part in the two-week intensive program coordinated by MoMA in conjunction with the Center for Curatorial Leadership. The curriculum brings senior curators and MoMA personnel together in New York for advanced instruction, including lecture courses taught by Columbia Business School faculty.

Above: A Benin Bronze. Photo by Michael Wal.

Museum in Europe Holding Themselves Accountable

The Humboldt Forum, a new Berlin museum housing a large array of non-European artworks, will not show its cherished Benin Bronzes, which many say were stolen from West Africa during the 19th century. Instead, the museum’s general director, Hartmut Dorgerloh, said on Monday that it would either show replicas of them or leave vacant spaces in its planned display.

Museums all over Europe are starting to consider returning items that have been subject to reports of, to state simply, being stolen from the countries they originated from. Since 2019, France steadily has been giving back 27 items to Benin and Senegal, and the Netherlands announced in 2021 that it will implement a “radical” program that will see multiple items returning to different countries.

In reality, those artifacts never can be seen again at the German museum: the Humboldt Forum is currently attempting to reclaim its Benin Bronzes. Andreas Görgen, the director general of cultural relations for Germany’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, met with Nigerian leaders to explore the prospect of returning the pieces, according to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The announcement comes only days after scholar Bénédicte Savoy slammed the Humboldt Forum’s intentions to display the Benin Bronzes, which previously had been shown at Berlin’s Ethnological Museum. (As part of the current museum’s completion, the Ethnological Museum’s works were to be moved to the Humboldt.)

The Benin Bronzes are a set of objects captured by British forces from the kingdom of Benin in what is now Nigeria in 1897. The cache of objects has been scattered among European organizations, with several of the more notable plaques winding up at London’s British Museum. Among the valued items taken were tusks, figurines, and other items.

Above:Jacob Lawrence, Self-Portrait, 1977. Gouache and tempera on paper.

Search for Lost Jacob Lawrence Pieces Looking Positive

In modern history, there still are works by African-American artist Jacob Lawrence that have yet to be located. When the art world failed to realize the importance of Black people and their art, valuable works were lost to the public eye. Just weeks ago, Lawrence was in the news for one of his paintings being discovered, and now it seems more are on the way. Swann Auction Galleries in New York is selling a collection of little-known photos documenting 14 of the 50 or so paintings Lawrence produced while serving as a war artist with the Coast Guard during WWII, almost all of which have gone missing. The photographs tend to shine light on a thinly known period of Lawrence’s career, and they might also lead unsuspecting viewers to know they possess a masterpiece.

The promotional photographs were taken by the Museum of Modern Art in New York for a limited exhibition of the artist’s work in 1944, the institution’s second-ever solo exhibition of an African American artist. Eight of Lawrence’s paintings from his tenure with the Coast Guard were on display at the 1944 MoMA show, which also included the artist’s acclaimed “Migration Collection.” The set of photographs, which will be offered for sale by an anonymous dealer in Swann’s Printed & Manuscript African Americana on March 25, is expected to be worth $2,000 to $3,000. The paintings represent guardsmen during their daily routine at the beginning of the integration of the Coast Guard. The paintings show a certain simple joy during a very obviously tense time in America.

-Compiled by Sumaiyah E. Wade

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