2008, Archival ink on cotton rag paper
I first encountered Swantini artist, Nandipha Mntambo's provocative work at the 2009 exhibition Undercover: Performing and Transforming Black Female Identities at Spelman College. This exhibition dealt with how
the black woman's body is percieved and treated not only by the larger pop white culture but examined how the black psyche has digested and internalized the ugly caricaturization and stereotypes of ourselves. In this photographic piece, Mntambo literally re-creates herself to look like a bull, which has special significance to both her personal and national heritage. Embodying both the matador and the bull she shows her incredible strength and courage and her almost heroic abilities to overcome anything. Nonetheless knowing this personal background doesn't take away the horror, shame, breathlessness and shock imagery evokes. The first time viewing piece I literally got chills--as it was both mesmerizing and frightening at the same time. Imagery for me always conjures up the duality and contradictions that exists with black femininity; for on one hand our exoticism if not handled carefully can quickly turn savage and our mystique on the other hand can be easily be mistaken as a nightmare.
"Odille and Odette"
2005, stills from High Definition Digital Video
British-Nigerian artist, Yinka Shonibare, is always on a quest to demystify and debunk the myths of what constitute black idenitity. He mischievously and brilliantly plays and blurs these lines. He always 'misappropiate' and 'misaligns' what is traditionally considered to be only African and only European and instead mashes these two fixed ideas of each identity together. In his 2005 film "Odille and Odette" he showcased a ballerina dancing evocatively a solo number in front of a massive mirror. However ballerina is both black and white and it is hard to distinguish who is the real and fictional selves as each woman dances in perfect harmony with each other creating a breathtaking mirror image of each other. In this somewhat bizarre self-portrait you simply cannot tell who is what as black and white identities are seamlessly merged.
"Exquisite Self Portrait: Jesus Christ Superstar"
2010, photo collage and mixed media on canvas
In Pruitt's whimsical and sacrilegious self portraiture of himself as Jesus, he reveals his somewhat religious side. A man who famously used cocaine as part of an installation and encouraged viewers to participate which they eagerly did---nothing becomes off-limits in his visual vernacular. So in keeping with his rebellious streak he fuses Christ, bublegum and googley eyes in a single self composite. I am not sure what to think of all of this but one thing for sure Rob Pruitt is not to be taken too seriously or should he?.