“BLACK IS THE COLOR”— Taking Back an Image



Taking Back an Image

Amos Lassen

Jacques Goldstein’s “Black is the Color” is a look at African-American artists who decided to give a different image. Having been faced with racist caricatures, the artists rebelled against the image of degrading stereotypes of a brutally racist society but because these artists had been so ignored and marginalized, they had to wait a hundred years before they finally won the recognition they rightfully deserve. This film tells the story of how African-American artists how they did this. Now, a century and a half after the abolition of slavery in this country, the Museum of Modern Art in New York has just hired a black curator to fill the hole in the absence of African-American artists among its collections.

The term “The Color Line” was first coined over a century ago and it supposedly determines who is black, and who is white and implies who is superior and who is inferior. Now, finally, the time has, at last, come to do away with the segregation that has virtually kept black art out of American museums and leaving it on the fringes of the art market but getting to this point has been difficult.

The film focuses on African-American artists’ long march to obtain recognition and that march took place alongside the struggle for civil rights in the United States. Their image had been rather degraded by a discriminating white perspective in a segregated society.

Works by African-American artists are now on show in the most prestigious museums, and their paintings are selling for fortunes at auction. Yet for over a century these artists were ignored by galleries, looked down on by the critics and as a result remained largely anonymous to the general public.

From the 19th century onwards the goal of African-American painters was to reclaim ownership of their image, and this remains the goal of today’s artists as well.

The film juxtaposes works of art with the historical documents and footage of the major moments in this battle for civil rights and features interviews with the young artists, curators and collectors who have played their part in earning this recognition.

However, racist stereotypes are as powerful as ever and the question as to whether African-American art will be able to disconnect itself from the issues that gave rise to it is uncertain.

Art historians and gallery owners place African-American visual art against the larger social contexts of Jim Crow, World War I, the civil rights movement, and the racism of the Reagan era. Meanwhile, contemporary artists discuss individual works by their forerunners and their ongoing influence.

This is a much-needed survey of great work by artists whose contributions have been neglected by the mainstream art world for much too long.

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