How to Embed a Shout: A New Generation of Black Artists Contends with Abstraction
by Seph Rodney
A new wave of black abstract artists are exploring ways to push the language of abstraction and still retaining their cultural specificity. And they’re not doing it alone.
These artists’ outlooks have to do with when they were born and the circumstances of their coming of age. Edwards says, “A lot of these [artists] growing up in the 80s, coming to consciousness around racial violence that really appeared on a national scale for the first time around the Rodney King moment.” In 1991, King was beaten savagely by four Los Angeles police officers, and a bystander’s film of the incident was seen worldwide. Then, the subsequent trial and acquittal of the police officers involved sparked an uprising and riots that lasted for five days and caused the death of more than 50 people.
That systematic physical and legally sanctioned brutalization of that black man’s body was understood as a symbolic devaluation of him. The King beating, along with a multitude of similar subsequent incidents circulate the idea that officers of the state (and by extension the state itself) won’t allow themselves to be accountable for the bodies of black people. The burgeoning movement, particularly evident in urban areas, to film police officers carrying out their duties, especially when confronting people of color has much to do with holding police to account and taking responsibility for each other. Mercer confirms that this generation “want to be responsible.” She continues, “I know young artists who say to me that they abhor the notion that their work would not be relevant or not connect with what’s going on in the world.”