Anonymous Boston

Photo Courtesy of Joanna Marinova Jones

The last time I saw an exhibition that literally made me tremble was at the Institute of Contemporary Art during the Mark Bradford show (November 19, 2010 – March 13, 2011). This time around, it wasn’t Bradford that almost moved me to tears, but rather an exhibition at Fourth Wall Project on social justice and gun violence in Boston. Words could not even begin to describe the emotions I felt as I read every wall text, looked at every photograph and listened to the desperate pleas of families (a haunting audio piece was part of the show) in Anonymous Boston a multimedia exhibit that focused on life, rather than the devastating effects of gun violence.

Organized by media producer and human rights activist Joanna Marinova Jones, Anonymous Boston directly and indirectly brought to light many issues that have long been ignored by public officials, and people not directly affected by gun violence. Anonymous Boston aimed at empowering those families who have experienced devastating losses—by giving them a voice with which to tear down the derogatory comments left behind by anonymous bloggers on online news articles.

Newspaper clippings with stories on the victims made this exhibition not only interesting, but relevant on so many levels. The headlines are nothing short of sensational, they nurture the anonymous monsters that leave tactless comments that hurt victim’s families.

Fueled by the insensitive, inaccurate and superficial media coverage of violence in Boston, these anonymous bloggers further exacerbate the situation by relentlessly attacking not only grieving families, but an entire race. Their comments, some of which I have quoted above, are difficult to stomach.

It’s much easier to ignore the issue or point fingers and blame the victim’s family, rather than to take a stand to stop gun violence. It is also much easier to say “if it is not happening to me, then it’s not my problem— why should I care about all the violence that is destroying your community?”

Photo Courtesy of Joanna Marinova Jones

What happens in Boston is everyone’s responsibility. I could not help but feel mentally drained and spiritually devastated, but always remaining hopeful—as I was confronted with blatantly racist and ignorant comments left by these bloggers next to a victim’s photograph. It’s easy to hide behind a veil rather than to discuss the real underlying issues as to why these things are happening in our city.

To say that what happens in Roxbury, Dorchester or Mattapan isn’t my problem— is to be part of the problem, as a family member of one of the victims in Anonymous Boston was quoted saying.

Anonymous Boston communicated a powerful message and I sincerely hope that those who experienced it listened. Gun violence is the product of complex cultural issues. We as a culture are obsessed with guns and yet we wonder why there is so much senseless violence in this country. My only regret was not being able to experience this exhibition more than once, as I went on the second to last day before closing. 

All other uncredited images are by Anulfo Baez.

Review: Mark Bradford

Photo of Mark Bradford by Fredrik Nilsen, courtesy: theartnewspaper.com

When Nicholas Baume left his position as chief curator of the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (ICA) in 2009 to join the Public Art Fund of New York City, the future of Boston’s contemporary art scene was questioned.  With Baume’s curatorial insight, the ICA organized the first major museum retrospective of artists Tara Donovan and Shepard Fairey, thereby breaking attendance records (and bringing in tons of dough) and shining a light on Boston’s contemporary art scene. Since Baume’s departure, the ICA has exhibited a retrospective of Roni Horn and Damian Ortega organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art and Tate Modern in London respectively.  In its quest to continue breaking the blurred boundaries of the art world, the current exhibition at the ICA is the first museum survey of the Los Angeles born and based artist Mark Bradford.

Organized by The Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University, Mark Bradford (November 19 – March 13, 2011) is one of the most powerful exhibitions I have seen in recent memory. Bradford is known for his large scale abstract paintings which resemble dense political and physical maps. These paintings are created out of carefully selected found materials which include, but not limited to, weathered billboard paper, permanent weave end paper, newsprint, carbon paper, and wrapping paper. In spite of their abstract qualities, Bradford’s works are filled with subject matter and intense social commentaries.

Experiencing the works in the exhibition, the phrase “silence is golden” constantly came to mind. The moment one is confronted with a work of art, in particular one created by a contemporary artist, “silence is golden” does not apply. But as I stood in front of Bradford’s larger than life paintings, I wanted to find words that would help me explain the emotions I was feeling.  I was struck speechless by the intensity of the materials, colors and images and texts in Bradford’s works.

Untitled (Shoe), 2003. Billboard paper, acrylic gel medium, and additional mixed media. 30 x 31 1/2 inches. The Speyer Family Collection. Photo: Bruce M. White.

Among the works that still resonate with me are Untitled (Shoe) 2003, Scorched Earth, 2006 and Black Venus, 2005. In Untitled (Shoe), Bradford has taken a billboard advertisement for Reebok sneakers and peeled away the image of the shoe leaving only its outline.  With this piece, Bradford is making a commentary on black identity and sneaker culture, “I feel black male masculinity, especially in the last 10 or 15 or 20 years has been narrowed based on a kind of popular culture. Popular culture has determined that [as] black males, we exist in about two or three different models, the sports figure, the gangster figure, or the reverend.” Mark Bradford employs stereotypes to break away stereotypes.

Scorched Earth, 2006. Billboard paper, photomechanical reproductions, acrylic gel medium, carbon paper, acrylic paint, bleach, and additional mixed media on canvas. 94 1/2 x 118 inches. Collection of Dennis and Debra Scholl. Photo: Bruce M. White

In Scorched Earth, Bradford uses a dramatic and unforgettable red and black palette to reference the moment in history when in 1921 35 city blocks in Tulsa, Oklahoma were burned and destroyed in the riots resulting from the tensions between blacks and whites. In Black Venus, Bradford “examines class-race, and gender based economies that structure urban society in the United States.”

“”I was always supported in the domestic realm, and I was always strong about standing up for myself, but there were still struggles in my life. Reading about the postmodern condition made me realize it was about independence, about doing your own thing. And that’s a state of mind. It’s not an art work or a book. It’s a state of mind. Fluidity, juxtapositions, cultural borrowing- they’ve all been going on for centuries. The only authenticity there is what I put together.” – Mark Bradford

Black Venus, 2005 Detail. Mixed media collage, 130 x 196 inches. Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co. Image taken from Art21’s documentary on Mark Bradford as shown on PBS.

Mark Bradford at the ICA has the potential of igniting a rich dialogue on the urban landscape and race relations in America (in particular Boston, since the exhibition is currently in the city). His grid-like paintings resemble physical, political and topographic maps, allowing the viewer to imagine the rivers, mountains, lakes, elevations, boundaries or the ideological differences that divide and unite people. I loved this exhibition! I loved it because it is powerful and unabashed in exposing the economies of urban centers and their impact on people of color living in America today. I loved it because Mark Bradford is one of the few contemporary artists of color dealing with these questions through abstract art.

Will you go and see the exhibition, contemplate Bradford’s works in silence (go on a Friday night) and start a dialogue of your own?