If art is a mirror for culture, the aesthetic reflection of black history seems to be fractured, blurred, distorted by shards of broken dreams, oppression, and heartache. Putting them back together to form an integrated image, then, is a tough job, but according to artist and curator David A. Bailey, it is worth the effort.
In the first of a two-lecture series about black British art entitled “Curating the Racial Experience: from Harlem to Blaxploitation,” Bailey spoke Tuesday afternoon about the ultimate importance of understanding the history of black art — without a complete view of what was accomplished, it is difficult to determine the direction in which the culture is headed. The lectures, as well as a talk that featured black British female mixed-media artist Sonia Boyce, are sponsored by the Initiative for Race, Gender, and Globalization and facilitated by the Yale Center for British Art.
Educated at the University of Sussex and at the Institute of Visual Arts, Bailey is no stranger to the arts. He himself was at first a photographer, but quickly moved on to curating exhibits; finally, in 1997, he corroborated with Duke University’s Richard Powell to create “Rhapsody in Black,” which displayed an international array of art from the Harlem Renaissance. The exhibit was quite a success, but it took seven years to create a follow-up. He is now working on “Black to Black,” the sequel to “Rhapsody,” that instead focuses on the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
In creating the exhibits, Bailey wanted to give a different spin to the two periods by focusing on the international response to them. While photographs in the past have depicted the radical upsurges in American culture, few realize just how widespread the effects have been.
“I want to challenge the old perspectives,” said Bailey, “and incorporate new and old international responses to the period.”
It is strange to think of the Harlem Renaissance as stereotyped, but after viewing the influence it has had on the international community, it seems equally important to acknowledge British, Trinidadian and even African contributions to art. Most of the art presented demonstrated a sentiment of camaraderie and a return to native roots, even though the artists involved were displaced from the radical stirrings of the United States.
The connections between this critical time in history to British art could not have come at a more opportune time, said African American studies professor Hazel Carby, who arranged for Bailey and Boyce to visit.
“The British Art Center has quite a narrow view of what it characterizes as British art,” Carby said. “It is important to bring this level of diversity to the Yale community.”