From January 2017

no scrubs

“A scrub is a guy that thinks he’s fly
And is also known as a busta
Always talkin’ about what he wants
And just sits on his broke ass…” TLC, No Scrubs, 1999

NO SCRUBS was the boisterous, fun dance brigade that I organized for the Jan 21 Women’s Marches (both Oakland and San Francisco). Why “NO SCRUBS”? Because if you know that jam, you know that it’s an earworm that’s hard to shake. Its lyrics could also be interpreted, under present circumstances, as a fun way to critique the new administration.

Oakland march
Oakland march

Organized around hiphop and pop music, Team NO SCRUBS’ goal was to add some sass to the occasion by dancing: “marching” just seemed so… grim. With that in mind, we got a PA system on wheels, and put together a playlist of fun, feisty pop songs by women of color (and Prince). Team NO SCRUBS then made and brandished quirky, absurdist protest signs quoted from these songs, and got a rolling dance party going with other marchers at both events.

Oakland march
Oakland march
Oakland march
Oakland march

Our goal was to be a focused, energetic burst of sunshine: the color yellow was employed as a motif for Golden State optimism, energy and power, and the music chosen was a deliberate strategy to engage and energize people. By all accounts, it worked well, especially when people were stuck in a holding pattern due to the crowds, and later when it started raining, too. It gave everyone within earshot of us something to do, and something to bond over.

SF march
SF march
SF march
SF march

With many more protests likely in the near future, it’s important to come up with strategies that allow for optimism, collaboration and play, most especially when folks are feeling furious, alone or negative. Most activism requires more serious action, so dancing to pop music is by no means a blanket solution: however, Alice Walker did tell the crowd at the Jan 18 queer dance party held outside Mike Pence’s house that these times call for “serious dancing,” so…

While much of Team NO SCRUBS was the result of a great collaborative effort among the women involved, its premise was the direct result of a deep reading of The Culture Group’s “Making Waves” PDF, which I highly recommend to anyone trying to figure out what to do with themselves, creatively and politically, at present.

Sing with me now:

“NO I don’t want no scrub
A scrub is a guy that can’t get no love from me…”

brief video clips here and here.

sign prep
sign prep
body glitter prep
body glitter prep
SF march
SF march

first images

This was the cover to my summer course reader for Global Perspectives in Contemporary Art. It’s a portrait of Sifiso Candace Leonardo, by the South African photographer/visual activist Zanele Muholi.

GPCA cover

I make a  point of having the first image that my students see each semester in all of my classes be by an amazing, but typically less-represented, artist: a person of color, female, trans, non-Western, queer, non-binary, and/or any of the intersections therein. This image is either the cover of a reader or the first image on my syllabus.

I do this because these artists are still too often an after-thought, not front and center. It’s not charity when I do this: it’s the 21st century, it’s common sense, it’s great art, and it’s still not happening enough. Some of the artists I choose are in fact well-known international art stars, like Yayoi Kusama: often, my students still don’t know who she is. (The lesser-known Muholi image was one that I loved anyway, but coming into the summer course just days after the Orlando Pulse shootings, it felt that much more important to center the beauty, strength and fierceness of queer voices of color.)

First images from other recent syllabi (artists Lava Thomas, MM Yu, Jaime Hernandez):

d4nm lava digph mm fys xaime

One significant exception to my “first image” policy was this piece by Robert Longo. It was an exception because it was this incredible drawing:

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 1.18.28 AM
-and therefore a way to talk not only about great technical drawing skills, but about how to apply those skills to relevant contemporary issues.

What we think of as the art world still dismays me in its passive racism and sexism. It’s a world I love and have been part of for decades, but it still disappoints me when it’s not as tolerant and inclusive as it flatters itself that it is. What’s happening in recent news in America should not be mistaken for something that the arts are immune to. We do all right, but we need to do better.

Last Friday January 20th, I was scheduled to give a brief noon talk at SFMOMA. I had deliberately selected Inauguration Day for this conversation, but was compelled to cancel it in solidarity with the J20 Art Strike that day.

I had chosen to discuss Student, 1968, by Wayne Thiebaud:

student

It’s a piece that I genuinely love, but my selection was also a way to talk about some of the points I’m bringing up in this post. SFMOMA was gracious enough to publish my statement, which is more or less a skeleton version of the points I had intended to address. This statement was also on display in the gallery, next to Wayne’s painting.(Pic below, someone reading my statement in SFMOMA that day.)

image
Anyway, back to Global Perspectives, summer 2016. In my Day 1 lecture, showing images by a number of artists of African descent, I talked with my students about the irony and problematics of sharing these images without a single Black student being present, at a school with few Black students in general. (It’s not that one must be Black to appreciate this work, of course, but the richness in so much of it seems to bounce around the room without the resonance of familiarity, at times.)

As we stare down the barrel of this intensely turbulent moment in U.S. history, I want to gently and lovingly challenge many of my colleagues in art education to look at ways they could diversify the artists and themes that they teach to. Look hard at numbers: when you show male/White/western artists, what percent? How could you change it up a bit? Beyond personal identity,  how often are you showing work that engages social and political issues, rather than just formalism in a vacuum? I also want to gently and lovingly challenge my friends and colleagues in arts institutions to look more authentically at issues of inclusion, and how to do the work of curating and organizing exhibitions and events that truly attract and connect with more diverse audiences. When you look around your galleries, who isn’t there?

Some of these challenges are easy things to do, some are harder. They’re by no means the only things to address, but they don’t hurt. And they’re definitely more immediate than the bigger challenges of structural racism, sexism and epidemic violence we’re confronting right now in this country. This week, when I’m feeling sadness and impatience for change, continuing the quiet, insistent work of change and inclusion feels more important than ever.