by Horace Brockington

All cultures need to develop activities that call into question specific cultural directives. Artists have historically taken on this role. As such, we often view certain themes and symbols in works of art as indicative of cultural values which reflect an assumed common understanding. However, in our contemporary existence it becomes quickly apparent that in the different groups comprising America's multicultural environment, people speak, act, and view issues differently. These differences are profound and systemic. Such variations acknowledge that within the larger context there are different ways of speaking, acting, communicating style and, subsequently, different priorities.

As a result, what develops in the end is a need for a cross-cultural understanding of the aims and themes of the artists. Differences in aims in the content of the art object often results in unique approach to the methodology of art making. It therefore becomes essential to recognize that what is involved is not a difference in artistic ability, but differences in cultural logic. The viewer must become aware of the need to approach works by artists outside the mainstream of American western culture with an openness and consciousness to the existence of many different points of view. All of them are equally valid. Each subculture helps to create the larger system of artistic identity which provides American and Western art with the wealth of expressive derivatives. What emerges by this approach is a culture whose particular greatness lies in, and encourages, ethnocentric individuality to exist in the larger culture.

When curators, art historians, and critics are often asked to reflect on the works of artists of color in America we must accept the reality that within our larger culture, each artist is also a part of a culture that has its own self-contained system of values and mores. As such, any approach to their art must consider not only the culture as a whole, but the ethnicity and the specific culture of the artist as well. It is impossible to separate the extra-ethnic reality from the work, given everything conspires to convey meaning. What becomes equally essential is the identification of artistic differences observed as well as differences in cultural values which the works explore. Our role as commentators on the art must be to address indirect differences of ethics and culture presented by the art object and its content due to cultural norms and assumptions which in themselves are culturally specific.

Therefore, the future writings for REVIEW by this observer will seek to look at issues and responses to concepts which may be relevant to "other" cultures from which these artists of color emerge. Such a focus will seek to address concepts about art and culture which are relatively, if not absolutely, universal. What I will do is approach the work by these artists with the intention of revealing how the artists are attempting to speak at once to an ethnic culture as well as an overlapping larger cultural/ artistic milieu. Such overviews will aim to share the excitement, interest, mutual involvement. More importantly, these writings will attempt to allow for identifiable cultural values, artistic attitudes, political, and social aims reflected in the art. Such an approach will hopefully reveal some particular aspect of the artist's personality involved in a inner world, and a larger cultural framework. It will equally add to the development of a more multi-cultural study of art which rejects the type of universalism encouraged by most traditional art history.

Art clearly exist across cultures, still such individual works by artists of color have meanings of their own and these meanings can be equated to a type of semantic language which is independently established or bounded to specific cultural traditions. What these artists and their works are addressing is about differences in dealing with the same artistic language for their own use. Such an approach is directly based on the complexity of the larger American culture in which cultural attitudes condition every individual to be constantly aware of the sense of the other people, voices, points of view. It is an attitude in which one is forced to view oneself as anindividual amongst many, all equally entitled to their own autonomy, particulars, and eccentricities, even if the reality is different.

With that said, I look forward to sharing my observations about the works of artists of color, both new and exciting young artists, as well as some rather well-known individuals. To start this dialogue I have put together a short list of exhibitions presently on view that are well worth viewing, as well as a couple of promised future exhibitions. I look forward to sharing my observations concerning many of these exhibitions as well as future projects with the reader.

Presently on view are shows by Robert Colescott at Phyllis Kind . . . Darrell Ellis at Art In General . . . Glen Ligon at Brooklyn Museum . . . Andrew Lyght at finished . . Three Generations of African-American Women Sculptors: A study In Paradox at Equitable Center . . .Yasumasa Morimura at Luhring Augustine . . Chakaia Booker at The Queens Museum Bulova Corporate Center . . . New Histories at the ICA ( Boston) . . . Richard Hunt at The Studio Museum . . . Stan Douglas at David Zwirner . . . Charles Searles at June Kelly . . . Other Blood at Real Art Ways (Hartford) . . . Queen Nefertiti and the Royal Women: Images of Beauty From Ancient Egypt at the MET . . . Contemporary Art In Asia at the Asia Society, the Grey Gallery and Queens Museum . . . Photography in Latin America at the Brooklyn Museum . . . Norman Lewis at Bill Hodges . . . Alfonso Ossorio at Michael Rosenfeld . . . Juan Carlos Alom at Throckmorton . . . Maria Elena Gonzalez at El Museo del Barrio . . . Bio+ at the Columbian Center.

I equally look forward to the upcoming Bob Thompson exhibition at the Whitney, and Rrose is A Rrose Is A Rrose: Gender, Performance and Photography at the Guggenheim

Copyright ©1996 Horace Brockington & REVIEW All Rights Reserved