Saturday, July 27, 2013

Beverly McIver at Betty Cunningham Gallery

While my companion from Korea (Dominique J.) and I strolled through Chelsea during the yearly 'art walk,' we observed that most of the gallery hoppers were white.  Even though the art walk was free and everyone was welcome, I would estimate that 85% of the people there (if not more) were white.

So when we chatted about this, I joked and said, "Well, America is a very diverse country.  We have white culture, black culture, Latino culture, Asian culture..."

And she shot back: "Oh...and these cultures never mix?! Nice diversity!"

I said, "Unfortunately, very rarely do they mix."

I explained that US culture mirrors aspects of US society.  So we live in a society where, 50+ years after the Brown vs. the Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court (to ensure blacks and whites could attend the same schools), we still have black and white schools. Black and Latino students still cannot compete, for various social and economic reasons, with white and Asian young people.

We live in a society with a 'black' president who ran for office (twice) appealing to the middle class and who never, once, spoke out against poverty in America.

Furthermore, 50+ years after the 'black doll/white doll' experiment, young black children still seem to prefer playing with white dolls and consider the black dolls to be 'bad.'

If you've never heard of the black doll/white doll experiment, here's a clip:

The point of the black doll/white doll experiment was to show that African Americans in the USA have a tough time with issues involving an African American identity. In one part of the experiment, as you can see from the clip above, a black child is asked which doll is nice. The child points to the white doll.  When asked which doll is bad, a child points to the black doll.  When asked which doll the child looks like, the child wants to pick the white doll, but begrudgingly chooses the black doll.

We see this struggle for identity in the work of Beverly McIver at Betty Cunningham Gallery.  Indeed, it was ironic that shortly after discussing race in America we stumbled upon McIver's work at Cunningham.  Very few African Americans come into Chelsea to see the art and very few seem to be represented by galleries (Skoto Gallery traditionally represents black folks and Africans, however).

McIver once wrote: "As a child I had dreamed of becoming a clown to escape my black skin, poverty and the housing project I once called home.  Clowning was my disguise, my liberation."

Here we see three images of McIver (her paintings are autobiographical) praying. In the process of prayer we see pain and struggle.

In the first panel, above her portrait, she thanks God for her friends and family because they have been a great support to her.  In the second panel she thanks God for the election of Barack Obama and asks God to help Obama do wonderful things.  In the third panel she expresses gratitude for her 50th birthday.

Below, we see McIver at her birthday party.

Interestingly, McIver now teaches at a university in Durham, North Carolina, that has had a traditionally black student body.  Durham, North Carolina is a city, however, with significant racial issues.  Duke University (one of America's 'best') is located in this same city.  Although about half of Durham is black, about 90% (if not more) of the student body at Duke is white/Asian.  The infamous "Duke lacrosse case" happened in Durham, when the all-white, male Duke lacrosse team hired black strippers to entertain them at a party and there were allegations (later to be declared 'unfounded') of sexual harassment. 

So I think it's great that McIver, who could probably teach anywhere, is at North Carolina Central University.  It is essential that the visual arts not be a 'white' thing or an aspect of white culture.  The students there have an amazing artist to nurture and encourage them.

Here's the website for the gallery:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.