Nikki A. Greene

Biography

2016-2017: Richard D. Cohen Fellow

Rhythms of Glue, Grease, Grime, and Glitter: The Body in Contemporary African American Art

Project Description

Rhythms of Glue, Grease, Grime, and Glitter: The Body in Contemporary African American Art

In Rhythms of Glue, Grease, Grime, and Glitter: The Body in Contemporary African American Art, I present a new interpretation of the work of Romare Bearden, David Hammons, Renée Stout, and Radcliffe Bailey, using key examples of painting, sculpture, photography, and installation by these prominent African-American artists as case studies in a re-examination of the conventions and stereotypes in the representations of black bodies and black identity in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The study explores how music – and in particular jazz and funk – aligned with the visual arts in the work of these artists, a strategy that offers an original and compelling vehicle for recovering the disparate African and African American influences within American culture and, more specifically, within the history of American art.

This distinctive approach offers a road map for exploring the intersection of African-American identity and culture through an analysis of the various formal languages adopted by these prominent artists. Through the working (and re-working) of bodies and body parts that are identified as black through signs – African masks spliced into photomontage, kinky hair imprinted onto paper, a woman’s body molded and adorned with roots, room installations of disengaged piano keys – the work of these four artists suggests new ways of looking at and conceiving of black identity: by undermining familiar imagery, and shaking the viewer into a realization of the tangible presence of the black body, their works broke (and continue to break) new ground in the history of American art.

How does the meaning of American art change when artists not only document themes visually, but also reference and transmit them sonically? By investigating visual art and music, can a new paradigm open up to include not only jazz and, more recently, hip hop, but also funk in order to interpret art by African-American artists in new and exciting ways? Does the physical presence of artists of African descent – of their actual bodies – lodged within their work anchor a theoretical authority not only through the materiality of the object, but also as a postmodernist turn toward resisting erasure? By interrogating the careers and works of Romare Bearden, David Hammons, Renée Stout, and Radcliffe Bailey, artists who drove themselves into the center of the discourse through the insistent presence of their bodies in their work – making themselves legible, recognizable, and at times even audible to the viewer – Rhythms of Glue, Grease, Grime, and Glitter finds a slippage, a gap, within which music allowed these artists an opportunity to explore the formal and philosophical development of black visual culture.

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