Tag Archives: Vaco Araujo

Assignment 5: Research 2: Photographers challenging cultural subjugation and the marginalisation of social groups through visual art

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Figure 1: Yuet Wah O’Neill by Allan O’Neill

As I have progressed through Context and Narrative I have become increasingly interested in how culture shapes our identities and the roles that we perform in our daily lives.

This process of research and reflection has been inspirational to my conviction to explore why the Asian part of my own identity and heritage has been secondary to the English part and absolutely integral to the conceptual development of my visual response.

What is also very apparent is that Western popular culture has established itself as superior to other cultures and maintains this position through far-reaching structure that contains very few contradictions and which involves all aspects of social and cultural reality. This in-balance of power has created historical structures, divisions and inequalities across racial, gender and socio-economic groups and this realisation has certainly strengthened my personal convictions to begin this very personal exploration.

The following artists and exhibitions have all in some shape or form served as the inspirations for my research whether this be in conceptual or visual terms and consolidate my thinking I will now attempt to distil the relevant issues.

Black Blossoms Exhibition (UAL)

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Figure 2: Images taken of finished works by Nicole Muskett

The exhibition highlighted the voices of black women and explored how this group is marginalised and stereotyped by mainstream society.

One of the exhibits did not resonate with myself initially but has increasingly been significant in my subsequent reflections. Illustrator Nicole Muskett decorated a series of skateboards with images of famous black female role models such as Rosa Parks whose courageous dignified defiance in Montgomery, Alabama, USA in 1955 became the catalyst for the American Civil Rights Movement. Other role models adorning these skateboards were Michelle Obama, Frida Kahlo, Malala Yousafzai, Yoyoi Kusama and Dianne Abbott.

By effectively decorating skateboards with the achievements of black women the artist challenges one of the skate culture stereotypes so often associated with young black people and instead presents a group of positive role models which show black women in a different light.

This exhibit highlighted the need for positive role-models in order to achieve a positive acceptance of one’s own self-identity and this will be a core a part of my assignment submission.

I have previously blogged about this exhibition and to see the full post please see here or access online AT:

https://allanoneillcontextnarrative.wordpress.com/2016/09/26/black-blossoms-exhibition-at-the-university-of-the-arts-ual-london/

Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusgosa

David Olusgosa, historian, presented TV BBC documentary series Black and British A forgotten history that delved into the experiences and contributions that black people have made in Britain’s history over the past four hundred years.

The programmes chronicled the history of the relationship between black people and Britain including the Black Georgians, Slave Trade, the abolition movement and race relations.

The format of the programmes was to identify and celebrate the strength of character, contributions and achievements of black Britons. In the following short clip photographer Neil Kenlock describes how he photographed black people’s lives in London during the 1960s and 1970s.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04jrbl9/player

In the clip Kenlock says, “I was trying to capture strength and proudness and that I decided that I would never click the camera unless I see strength in that person’s eyes and body. And if you look at my images you almost know it’s one of mine because the subject is always very sure of themselves.” (Neil Kenlock, photographer.)

This passage became especially significant in my subsequent thinking when formulating my final visual work.

Decolonial Desire exhibition by Vasco Araujo at the Autograph Gallery, London

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Figure 3: Image taken from Decolonial Desire exhibition by Vasco Araujo (2016)

The Decolonial Desire exhibition explored Portugal’s colonial past in Africa and used archived photographs to demonstrate how social realities and histories can be visually constructed and whose purposes are served.
Exhibition curator, Mark Sealy describes the artist, “Arajo is part of a generation of contemporary artists who question and critically investigate colonial histories. His work throws an uncomfortable light on the unrelenting violence, that was an inherent part of Europe’s colonial order.” (Sealy, M. 2016)

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Figure 4: Image of Capita taken from Decolonial Desire exhibition by Vasco Araujo (2016)

The artist subverts colonial racial stereotypes through a series of re-enacted satirical masquerades.

I specifically took forward two key points from the exhibition; firstly that I felt a strong conviction to explore the marginalised or silenced aspects of my own Asian heritage and secondly I began to consider that some sort of role re-animation or masquerade could form an appropriate visual response to my intentions.

I have previously written a post that summarises my experiences at the exhibition that can be read in full at

https://allanoneillcontextnarrative.wordpress.com/2016/12/13/exhibition-visit-vasco-araujos-decolonial-desire-at-autograph-abp-london/

The Fae Richards Photo Archive

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Figure 5: Taken from The Faye Richards Photo Archive

Artist Zoe Leonard and film-maker Cheryl Dunye collaborated to create these photographs which provide a narrative chronicling the life of the fictional character Fae Richards, an African-American actress born in the early 20th century through to her old age and involvement in the civil rights movement. Dunye attributes her photographic falsification of a life history to the lack of information recorded in real life.

“The Watermelon Woman came from the real lack of any information about the lesbian and film history of African-American women. Since it wasn’t happening, I invented it.” (Cheryl Dunye)

Through the use of photographic and archival conventions Leonard and Dunye successfully borrow from the lives of historical figures to create a believable narrative that explores questions about what is actually left out of history and it’s records.

This work inspired my thinking in terms of challenging the conventional belief that historical archives and documents form an objective, universal and unequivocal record of social and cultural history. It also formed in part the catalyst to consider some sort of constructed and additional version of history as part of my visual response.

Feminist Avant Garde exhibition at TPG

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Figure 6: An image of Mary Beth Edelson’s The Last Supper

On visiting the Feminist Avant Garde exhibition at TPG (see here) I saw Mary Beth Edelson’s Some living American Women Artists / Last Supper (1972) which made a clear statement challenging the white male dominated history of art by superimposing the faces of female artists over the male participants in Leonardo De Vinci’s original depiction of the Last Supper.

The idea of the picture was to provide appropriate recognition for a group of significant and important female feminist artists as well as making a vociferous call against how women had been treated by not only the male dominated art historian but also the religious order.

Whilst this particular exhibition provided the catalyst and major inspiration to confront how white male led conventional cultural norms marginalise and silences other social groups it was this particular exhibit which acted as the catalyst to recognise the general lack of recognition and role models from marginalised social groups.

This process of research and reflection has been inspirational to my conviction to explore these ideas and integral to the conceptual development of my visual response.

Bibliography

Black Blossoms Exhibition UAL can be accessed online AT: http://blackblossomsexhibition.tumblr.com

What if I don’t move to the end of the bus? The story of Rosa Parks summarised on the Henry Ford organisation website and can be accessed AT:

https://www.thehenryford.org/explore/stories-of-innovation/what-if/rosa-parks/

 Nicole Muskett’s own website can be accessed at:

https://nicolemuskett.com/2016/05/19/photographs-of-finished-printed-decks/ 

Black and British: A Forgotten History David Olusgosa documentary

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04jrbl9

Neil Kenlock speaks,

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04jrbl9/player

Vasco Araujo Decolonial Desire exhibition (2016) curated by Mark Sealy, held at Autograph ABP Gallery, London.

http://autograph-abp.co.uk/exhibitions/decolonial-desire

Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunne The Fae Richards Photo Archive (1996) (accessed 5/12/16) AT:

http://www.archivesandcreativepractice.com/zoe-leonard-cheryl-dunye/

IMAGES

Figure 1: Yuet Wah O’Neill by Allan O’Neill
Figure 2: Nicole Muskett Rosa Parks skateboard image taken artists own website http://www.nicolemuskett.com and can be accessed AT:

https://nicolemuskett.com/2016/05/19/photographs-of-finished-printed-decks/ (accessed 13/1/17)

Figure 3: Image taken from Decolonial Desire exhibition by Vasco Araujo (2016)

Figure 4: Image of Capita taken from Decolonial Desire exhibition by Vasco Araujo (2016)

Figure 5: Taken from The Faye Richards Photo Archive

Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunne The Fae Richards Photo Archive (1996) (accessed 5/12/16) AT:

http://www.archivesandcreativepractice.com/zoe-leonard-cheryl-dunye/

Figure 6: Image of Mary Beth Edelson’s The Last Supper

Image taken from

http://www.eng.fju.edu.tw/Literary_Criticism/feminism/female_art/Edelson.html

Exhibition visit: Vasco Araujo’s Decolonial Desire at Autograph ABP, London

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Figure 1: Taken at Decolonial Desire exhibition by Vasco Araujo (2016)

Vasco Araujo is a Portuguese multi-media artist whose first solo exhibition Decolonial Desire explores Portugal’s colonial past in Africa and addresses just how social reality and history are constructed and whose purposes are served.

Having just completed assignment 4 which focussed on an image from the 1970s Feminist Avant Garde movement I am embarking upon part 5 of the C & N course Constructed Realities and the Fabricated Image and with this in mind I have been researching potential interesting exhibitions when Decolonial Desire came to my attention.

Exhibition curator, Mark Sealy describes the artist, “Arajo is part of a generation of contemporary artists who question and critically investigate colonial histories. His work throws an uncomfortable light on the unrelenting violence, that was an inherent part of Europe’s colonial order.” (Sealy, M. 2016)

Vasco Araujo is a white male Portuguese artist undertaking this exploration on behalf of a country which has been slow to examine the full truth of their history but the first exhibit (see figure 1 above) set the tone; two old photography albums mixed into a single installation. 50% of the images are of the native black Africans who are presented as simple objects, exhibited and subjugated. The other 50% are of white Europeans who are clearly enjoying themselves and enjoying the trappings of rule and domination.

The pictures in the installation, a large photo library contained in an old dark wood cabinet, are images of the original photographs and as such appear as the image of the image created by colonisation and spread throughout Europe in order to justify white Europeans’ domination and exploitation of Africa and black Africans. The theme of the old dark wood runs throughout the exhibition and adds a sinister echo of those dark colonial days.

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Figure 2: Taken at Decolonial Desire exhibition by Vasco Araujo (2016)

The second exhibit (see figure 2 above) Botanica (2012-2014) comprised of a combination of two groups of photographs presented in dark wooden frames placed on traditional dark wooden dining tables. One group were photographs of exotic botanical plants taken from the tropical gardens of Lisbon, originally called the Colonial Garden. The second group of images were framed archive photographs taken of the black Africans used in the infamous human zoos that toured European cities during the 19th and 20th centuries where black Africans were essentially exhibited as exotic human specimens, the last show actually took place as late as 1958 in Belgium.

The outcome of Botanica is the creation of an exotic forest containing examples of botanical plants and the human species alike, the artist stated, “I want people to react with emotion. I hope that they not only get passionate, but also feel like they’ve been punched in the stomach. Discomfort, that is what I want, because discomfort provokes internal questioning.” (Vasco Araújo, 2016).

There is no doubt that I felt a deep physical pit in my stomach as I viewed this exhibit where the images of the exotic plants and human individuals are placed alongside each other for show and therefore are seen as equal in status and later on when I read more about the truth of these human zoos.

“These ‘human zoos’ were seen by 1.4 billion people overall – and that they therefore played an important, and so far unacknowledged, part in the development of modern racism……….A view of Africa and its people that is still contemptuous. A certain way in the West of believing oneself superior. Above all the story helps explain how millions of westerners were manipulated into a belief in the inequality of races.” (Schofield, H. 2011)

You can read more by reading the article Human zoos: When real people were exhibits (Schofield, H. 2011) which can be accessed at: URL: At: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16295827 Accessed on: 12 December 2016.

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Figure 3: Taken at Decolonial Desire exhibition by Vasco Araujo (2016)

A final exhibit Capita is a series of self-portraits where the artist masquerades and re-enacts a number of stereotypical racial profiles including the maid, butler, farm worker, musician and dandy gentleman. Araujo attempts to subvert these stereotypes by offering his own version of the powerless objectified gaze of black Africans so often seen in archived colonial photographs. The title of the exhibit Capita relates to the financial purpose of colonialism.

These photographs were turned upside within the gallery and initially I had thought that this exhibit was not quite as successful; originally I had thought that the slightly playful style adopted by the artist (more so in certain images) seemed to conflict and jar with the stark sense of authentic truth and reality that seems to run throughout the rest of the exhibition mainly delivered through it’s use of original imagery. However as I reflected more upon this I think the idea works really well but maybe they did not need to be upside down?!

Final thoughts

What I found most inspiring about this exhibition was to see the artist’s response to an unjustifiable structure of exploitation created by a process of colonialism that has led directly to racial discriminations to the present day.

Also we see clearly how identity, roles and stereotypes are created and become embedded in culture, social reality and eventually history itself; and how this process creates structures of control and domination exerted by those that hold power over those without it.

Reference list

Figures 1-3 All taken by Allan O’Neill at Decolonial Desire by Vasco Araujo (2016)

Vasco Araujo Decolonial Desire exhibition (2016) curated by Mark Sealy, held at Autograph ABP Gallery, London.

http://autograph-abp.co.uk/exhibitions/decolonial-desire