Art Lies, Volume 15, Summer 1997 Page: 4
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Town Hall Meeting
On Saturday, June 14, 1997, the editors of this edition of ArtLies called a symposium of African-American artists in Houston and the
surrounding areas. This was called to discuss issues concerning the artist's and their respective communities. Although the dialogue var-
ied in range and depth, the issue of race was the item most discussed.
The list of names that follows includes some of the attending artists :
Michelle Barnes Tierney Malone George Smith
David McGee Karen Saunders Marsha Dorsey
Selven Jarmon Kurt Hill Ricardo Francis
Arthur Shaw Kevin Tucker Floyd Newsum,Jr.
Rick Lowe Benito Huerta Alicia Chellum
Angela Williams Leamon Green Shahzia Sikander
Garry Reece Vivian Lee
The following excerpts were abstracted from two hours of intense dialogue that inspired and enriched those who attended.
David McGee: This conference was organized to discuss the concerns of the African-American community, where we are as a
people and, as an art community. We also hope [that] this conference will address the issue of the negative stereotypical
images of the black community.... I was in Los Angles for an exhibition and recently met Raymond Saunders. He wrote
an essay ["Black is a Color"] that appeared in ... Arts Magazine ... published in 1967 in which he criticized Ishmael
Reed. Ishamel Reed was trying to define the role of the African-American artist and their responsibility. .... He said,
African-American artists spend too much time talking about race. We should try to develop those things that do not put us
in a spiritual box. Race issues drive the individual to "bitterness" instead of "expanding" his or her abilities.
Discussing race in black art is a part of our natural makeup. Does that put us in a "box?"
Michelle Barnes: I don't think so, because every generation rediscovers its meaning of what it is to be an African-American, a
Negro, a colored person, a black person, an American. So for Raymond Saunders to make the comment, Oh, here we go
again; he has heard this debate over and over again during this lifetime. So he is tired of it. He has separated himself from
this and is traveling [in] a different direction. It is like a discovery for every generation. This is an issue that every genera-
tion has to deal with . . . That's his rationality. On one level he is involved in African-American life. He is saying I have
dealt with it and I am past that. I understand the history, but I am past that....
Garry Reece: I like to read. ... And to read a book like Mumbo, Jumbo which is completely the antithesis of what you would
say, "an African-American novel" is. It scares me. I liked what Ishmael Reed said in reference to being an African-
American artist. I don't care how Ishmael writes. You accept it as it is. If my subject matter happens to be about African-
American art, then so be it. Some friends tell me that I can not write about this because I don't know enough about this.
And I answer, well there is some credence to that. You don't have to write about African-Americans, specifically....
Ricardo Francis: Other artists are allowed to express themselves without limitations. When you are white you are not limited to
writing just about your own culture. As an African-American you are forced to write about your culture or the
African-American experience. This limits your creativity. African-American artists are expected to focus only on the
African-American experience. Personally, in my own work, I would like to expand to reflect who I really am without being
labeled and placed in a "box" which limits your creativity. Whatever race you belong to, you should be able to express
yourself freely without being labeled. We should not lock ourselves into a "box" through prejudice.
Kurt Hill: I want to show how people can lock themselves into a box. It actually destroys the mind of the thinker. We cannot
always assume . .. that we have to act. When you write only in categories, you allow people to manipulate you, to control
you, to sway you. The object here is to react to it. They can always control you from your reaction. I have always tried to
develop ways to nurture the thinker. What I envision is that many people in our culture [African-American], and it's just
not our culture. But, I am addressing our culture specifically, does not want change, does not want you to leave the "box."
So [our culture] attacks people who are about change.
That is a part of our main struggle. As far as the black thought, I have a considerable amount of hostility built up in
me about that issue. I have found that with conservatives at work, I have had things thrust upon me by telling me, "You
must do this kind of work." This has to look like a "Nigerian," a "Yoruban culture." It can't look like a "thorax," or an
"Ethiopian." So what they are doing is perpetrating the stereotypes. What was called revolutionary twenty-years ago, we
are still doing the same thing; and now it has become oppressive because we have a certain amount of power. I personally
have had to deal with that. So what has been put into place to destroy the system has rectified the machine, and now we
have become a part of the machine. ... concerning Michael Ray Charles. Basically, when I look at his work I feel that he
was just another African-American looking me in my face, calling me a Nigger; and being able to mean it and get away
with it because it is "politically correct ...."
4 I ARTLIES SUMMER 1997
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McGee, David & Locke, Patrick. Art Lies, Volume 15, Summer 1997, periodical, 1997; Houston, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth228046/m1/7/?q=Michael%20Ray%20Charles: accessed September 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; .