Art Papers  

more from the November/December 2012 issue:

Attack of the Boogeywoman: Visualizing Black Women's Grotesquerie in Afrofuturism
by Jared Richardson

Mickalene Thomas

in conversation with Carmen McCleod

November/December 2012
Letter from the Guest Editor

I've never edited a magazine before—perhaps that is what actually allowed me to believe I could do it. And with a three-week window to get the editorial content together, perhaps I was the only one crazy enough to try to do it.

When I signed on to this project, the existing framework was Art in the African Diaspora. Very quickly, I realized that it would be impossible to do justice to a group of artists working in so many different cultures, contexts, and experiences in a 64-page magazine. I decided to approach this issue with a focus on the immediate—those artists, still part of the diaspora, who surround me here in the United States. These are my peers—defining voices of a generation and simultaneously members of a diaspora characterized by expanding and collapsing boundaries located in a global and digital age.

Even when focusing on a single geographic area, certain dynamic challenges remain. Bridging diverse experiences with blanket concerns or qualifiers is, naturally, an impossibility. The diaspora is not now, nor has it ever been, a unified historical narrative. Rather than attempting to reconcile the voices of the artists, scholars, and critics included in this issue, we aim to demonstrate that their lives—while linked by alternative modes of artistic production informed by the immediacy of contemporary culture—are very much their own. I am lucky to live in a community dedicated to experimentation, new propositions, and the creation of new dialogues, and in coordinating this issue, I looked to members of this community to present some of what we know and some of what we haven't yet encountered to frame the conversation.

Like all of the artists and thinkers in the magazine, I also live as part of a remarkable history that allows me to engage with the work of so many artists who have changed the way we understand, index, and engage with the idea of a diaspora. I am writing this having just returned from the opening of Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980, organized by the Hammer Museum, and now on view at PS 1 MoMA (October 21, 2012–March 11, 2013). There is really nothing you can say about standing in such close proximity to anything made by David Hammons. It's all pretty breathtaking. What is remarkable about the show is its breadth—the very different ways of presenting a personal history; a political history; a history of identity; a history of identity as “other”; a history of material; a history of radicalism; and a history of all of these things and more combined. In some ways a retrospective like Now Dig This! functions as a volume of these histories. This issue of ART PAPERS aspires to be a chapter.

Whatever commonalities we share as members of a diaspora are outmatched by our many individualities. This impossible challenge is at the heart of the project. It is above all the complexity of that understanding that deserves representation.

I can't begin to express how impressed I am with the history of ART PAPERS. It is singular and inspiring. Likewise, Saskia Benjamin, the new executive director of ART PAPERS, deserves everyone's admiration for her brave act of taking on not only one new job, but actually two new jobs in supporting the slate of guest editors. She has been an amazing collaborator and I am certain she will lead ART PAPERS to great things.

—Sarah Workneh

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