Room 7: From Post-Modern to Post-Black

Kara Walker 8 Possible Beginnings or: The Creation of African-America, a Moving Picture by Kara E. Walker 2005

Kara Walker
8 Possible Beginnings or: The Creation of African-America, a Moving Picture by Kara E. Walker 2005

Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York
© Kara Walker

Over the past decade a new generation of art and artists has been identified as ‘post-black’, notably by US curator Thelma Golden and artist Glenn Ligon. Golden has suggested that the term ‘post-black’ describes those artists ‘who were adamant about not being labelled as ‘black’ artists, though their work was steeped, in fact deeply interested, in redefining complex notions of blackness.’

Current debate contrasts the work of these younger artists with that of the preceding generation, which was more deliberately rooted in identity politics. This earlier generation employ a number of complex strategies to explore history and black identity, including the practices of appropriation, repetition, sampling and recycling, particularly from popular culture. More controversially, they have also employed negative imagery and black humour to undermine racism. Glenn Ligon, for instance, uses African-American comic Richard Pryor’s humour in his Gold paintings to highlight the fault-lines in black political rhetoric.

Although the emphasis has shifted, history, politics and the archive remain constant preoccupations across these generations. Adam Pendleton’s System of Display series 2008−9 consists of silk-screened mirrors printed with images drawn from histories of modernity and display – including Picasso paintings exhibited in 1955, a photographic studio in Nigeria, and the Independence movement in Ghana. In his 2008 installation Untitled (BLCK-We Wear the Mask), Adler Guerrier presents the work of an imaginary black collective as a way of dealing with history at one remove, while questioning the truth and reliability of the historical archive.

Glenn Ligon Gold Nobody Knew Me number one 2007

Glenn Ligon
Gold Nobody Knew Me #1 2007

Courtesy Rubell Family Collection, Miami
© Glenn Ligon