Modern Griots: John Jennings

John Jennings, who describes himself as a “a professional bender of time,” and is an associate professor in visual studies at University at Buffalo, blends together the worlds of comics, hip-hop and racial discourse. Here is some of his article from Buffalo’s website:

John Jennings centers his life on provocative questions: How can we show the work of underrepresented artists, especially those who do comics? How can we go beyond the racial stereotypes of traditional comic art to show the rich expression of black artists, past and present? And how can we help UB students see that creating art is a possibility for them, to recognize that “art is everywhere” and acquire what Jennings calls “visual literacy?”

Since arriving at UB this past fall, Jennings, associate professor of visual studies, has impressed students and colleagues alike with a sparkling resume of interests and accomplishments. He is at once a nationally recognized cartoonist, designer and graphic novelist. A researcher intent on explaining and “disrupting” black stereotypes in popular media, Jennings disseminates his insights via books, exhibits and lectures that prod people to think about under-recognized voices in American graphic arts. Laced with humor and satire, these are rich expressions of women, gays and others who may have felt themselves invisible in the larger society, but who nonetheless create powerful images of dissent, or moving depictions of their diverse experiences in America.

“I started making comics, or being interested in comics, at an early age,” says Jennings, who grew up in rural Mississippi and counts many artists among his extended family. “I had fallen out from making them for awhile when I was studying graphic design. There are really a lot of talented graphic artists out there, so it’s really difficult to break into the mainstream. I didn’t think I necessarily had the skills to do that properly. So I focused on graphic design as a way to make money and further my scholarship, and myself as an artist.”

After Jennings began teaching at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he’d earned both an MA in art education and MFA in graphic design, he began to reexamine comics, “especially different modes of masculinity and performance. I was also looking at gangster rap, and video games and super hero comics. I became really interested in the racialized body, the hyper-masculine black body.

“So that’s what got me started looking at hip-hop and also comics, too. I began to see that there were a lot of stereotypes in popular serial comics. Even though it’s a hyper-masculine form or genre to begin with, the black male superhero was usually more physical, as far as just showing the body or being depicted as an athlete. You also didn’t see a lot of black male superheroes with telekinesis, or as leaders, or as villainous masterminds for that matter.”


Moving on the Wires: “H(A)UNTED” Exhibition

Tomorrow in Manhattan, the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute will be having an opening reception at 7pm for “H(a)unted,” an exhibition in response to Trayvon Martin and the historic criminalization of Black men. The exhibition will run from tomorrow to May 18th and Shantrelle P Lewis is curating it. Fyeahafrofuturism will be there as well. I cannot attend tomorrow, but I will go there eventually.

Besides this exhibition, the CCCADI has also presented series like “Roots and Stars,” which is about Black spirituality, The annual Woman of Power conference and Village Work. Please support CCCADI (it is one of the places that I am considering interning at after graduation).

Moving on the Wires: Bard Exhibition

Donna Huanca's "King and Queen"

Curator Andrew Rebatta sent me information on the Sunday opening of exhibitions at Bard College. He and six other student curators will be presenting their exhibitions. If you live near Bard and want to attend, this is the website for more information and directions. Here is Rebatta’s thesis exhibition:

Donna Huanca

“The myth is neither bad nor good, its potentials are unlimited”

curated by Andrew Rebatta

Donna Huanca’s sonic installation examines the psychological effects
of diaspora, as informed by Andean material culture from Latin
America’s southern cone and a personal lens of genetic memory. With
sounds set to cardinal points around the space, cosmic tones and
“sampled memories” circulate the gallery. Troubling the familiarity of
its frame, they also reflect the psychic states of Huanca’s
investigatory travels in the Andes. Commissioned as a contribution to
the unrealized sound department of the El Saturn Cosmic Research
Center, Huanca tests the consciousness-building potential of her
sound-based artistic practice, through an encounter between
Afrofuturist myths and the gallery context. Her research connects
ancient Andean mythologies, colonial legacies of control and cultural
syncretism, and the politics of ethnographic display, proposing an
interpretive space between multiple contested narratives.

April 29th – May 27th 2012

Center for Curatorial Studies, Hessel Museum of Art, Bard College,
Annandale-on-Hudson, NY

Donna Huanca (b. 1980, Chicago, IL, lives and works in Berlin and
Mexico City) creates large-scale installations using discarded
materials, in particular clothing, shoes, and fabrics. Her
installations create platforms that are performative in nature,
oscillating between the aesthetics of ritual arrangements and
ethnographic museum display. Huanca received her BFA in Painting from
the University of Houston (2004), studied at Städelschule, Frankfurt,
Germany, with Mark Leckey and Tobias Rehberger (2009-10), and was most
recently awarded a Fulbright Scholarship (2012) to Mexico City.

Otherworldly Videos: Hip-Hop and Shakespeare?

Award-winning rapper Akala describes the similarities between Shakespeare’s works and hip-hop lyrics and rhythm. Akala wants to challenge those who have power to define and allow certain people to be “custodians of knowledge.” His lecture makes one think of what is poetry and what is knowledge or intellect.

Modern Griots: M. Jacqui Alexander

Black feminist lesbian writer, scholar, activist and conjurer M. Jacqui Alexander on the web series, Signified. She speaks about the connections between spirituality and social revolution in that they allow one to envision new worlds, to understand one’s purpose in life and to connect with others.

Art of This World: Michael Ray Charles

“You’ve got to think of how these images were used in American culture…they were everywhere and they were used to market anything from oils to ink, from food products to clothing…People operate from an emotional place when they see these images because they think of the past as being something that happened and that the concepts don’t linger. But these concepts continue to affect us in many ways, in modern concepts of advertising as well as in contemporary advertisements.”
– Michael Ray Charles

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