Valerie Smith, “Abundant Evidence: Black Women Artists of the 1960s and 1970s” [WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution, ed. Lisa Mark, pp. 401-13]
I really appreciated Valerie Smith’s take on black woman artists and her focus on the themes, cultural references, and artistic forms in their art that distinguished it from mainstream feminist art. It did not surprise me that a lot of black feminist art from the beginning of the second wave feminist movement focused largely on black families and the “ideal” male-female black pairing. Then as now mainstream society often saw black relationships as inherently dis-functional and thought of male-female bonds between black people as lacking in strength or stability for a number of reasons all stemming from outdated race-based assumptions about blacks as a people. Combating this must have been a priority for many of these women artists just breaking through into the art world and I’m glad they did. However, I am also glad that black feminist art has, since then become much more nuanced and accepting of a wider variety of identities. Artists such as Rotimi-Fani-Kayode for example, explores both his black identity and gay male identity in his work and incorporates related themes such as colonialism as well. His approach does not so much glorify those like him, as did early black feminist art, but provides insights into his own identity and his own distinct interpretation of himself and the world in an artistically challenging way. While his work is not directly related to feminism, Kayode may not have become as prominent an artist as he is today if not for the contributions black feminist artists both from the original black art movement in the seventies and contributions made by artists decades after. The feminist and civil rights movement combined opened up a whole new world artistically, which, I think can continue to grow and diversify in an unlimited number of ways.