You know who you are.
Your parents may be immigrants. You yourself may be from a place far from where you currently live. You may have been the only (insert minority) in your art and theory classes. Your sexuality and gender (or lack thereof) may become a topic of conversation before your work does. You may have grown up without access to museums and good art supplies, but you still drew, sculpted, took pictures, or performed for your family and friends. Your beliefs or body type may make you a target for violence or ridicule. You may make work about your identity or you may not. Like all artists and scholars, you want to share your work and ideas.
You are reminded daily or occasionally but you are reminded nonetheless: you are “other.”
To you, I declare that community is not passé. It is the foundation upon which we stand, no matter how post-modern, irreverent, or solitary our practices. Also, I propose that heritage and the history of those who came before you is not a burden, but a source of strength. Tribute, homage, and respect are not just generational mandates - it is how your foundation is continually fortified. Community is how artists survive perpetual historical amnesia at the hands of the gatekeepers of the canon from which we seek acceptance.
I’m not going to lie to you. There are rewards for this amnesia - people will call you avant-garde or controversial, you don’t seem hindered by oppression, you aren’t didactic, you will gain access into places - alone - because you are one of the chosen ones who don’t challenge the institution. But you will be in the ivory tower, alone.
We can explore such ideas as the post-black, the post-racial, and the post-feminist because our ancestors’ world was a world of firsts before the post. I appeal to you to acknowledge your influences, publicly and loudly. I implore you to do your research and cite your sources. I ask you to share. Do not be lulled by the open gate or window, and then close it behind you so no one else like you can enter. A sense of competition is bred into the art world that makes you feel like you will lose if you aren’t the chosen one. Especially to the radiant child and the wunderkind, I ask you to open your hands and release your anxiety.
Perhaps most importantly, reach back and open doors to your elders. They need us, too. I applaud William Cordova’s work on the Black Panthers, Rashid Johnson for curating Sam Gilliam, Mickalene Thomas’ inter-generational show of black photographers at Rhona Hoffman, Clifford Owens’ historic work Anthology, LaMont Hamilton’s 75 Portraits project, and Eliza Myrie, Dawoud Bey, Candida Alvarez, and Theaster Gates for organizing the Black Artists Retreat.
Since Terry Adkins’ passing yesterday, I have been shocked at how many people did not know this brilliant man and his work. However, I have taken comfort that I belong to a community of people in the art world who take care of each other. “Are you alright?” “How is so-and-so taking the news?” “Do you want to talk?” “How will we make sure Terry is not forgotten?” I met the man briefly and have only been in this community for a few years, yet I feel totally enveloped by support. LaMont Hamilton and I were marveling about his impact and how we feel as emerging artists to have had the chance to share words and ideas with him. How good it feels to know I am not the only one who wants to celebrate his legacy.
This is not only about respecting your elders. It is also about self-care. The threat of addiction, isolation, and fear of losing your spot can have fatal consequences. We’ve seen this with our beloved Jean-Michel Basquiat. Take care of yourself and others on the margins with you. None of us are free until all of us are free.
May you all find comfort and power from your community in art and in history.
Brother Terry, may your legacy live forever.
Rashayla Marie Brown
February 9, 2014