This work – three essays following an introduction – was occasioned by the ongoing event of the hypervisible destruction of black life. I wanted to think about the swelling unpleasantness of black experience in the United States—a widely registered sense of backsliding—with art as my chosen tool. Among my presuppositions was this: in emergency conditions, when demands for art to be pertinent increase with the want for strong analyses of ‘real’ conditions, the realness of art risks fading from view. Indeed, the invitations and propositions of some recent art give insight into definitive elements of the present situation, concurrently challenging popular sentiment and established taste. Each essay engages a single object or project— a 2015 portrait of a black policeman by Kerry James Marshall, William Pope.L’s Skin Set Drawings, and a bonded nickel replica of the Lorraine Motel, the site of Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968—in an attempt to contextualize art’s faculty to question our most prestigious historical forms and significations by instituting new ones.
To Describe a Life: Notes from the Intersection of Art and Race Terror
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