The Nesto Gallery’s Newest Installation Celebrates Black History
by Pierce Wilson on Friday, January 13th, 2017
On November 18, 2016, the Black History Matters 365 exhibit opened in the Nesto Gallery. The exhibit features artwork from various renowned and up-and-coming black artists in the Boston area. Many of the pieces tackle issues regarding the systemic oppression of black people in America.
In 1985, filmmaker Nick Zedd coined the term transgressive with regards to artistry. Zedd’s definition of the term was “art that aims to transgress, to violate, or to outrage basic sensibilities.” However, acclaimed novelist Junot Diaz more recently pushed the idea that all art is, by nature, transgressive because it makes a statement about difficult topics which we may not often consider. It’s obvious that many, if not all, of the exhibits in Black History Matters 365 could be described as transgressive.
One piece by Cedric Douglas features yellow police tape, commonly associated with crime scenes, strung against a wall. Instead of the expected word “CAUTION,” the tape reads “DON’T SHOOT,” a phrase commonly associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. This shocking juxtaposition calls attention to police brutality in America while highlighting the humanity of both parties involved. In this way, the piece oversteps the boundaries of art.
Examples aside, Diaz’s bold statement begs the question, can art exist simply for art’s sake, for technical glitz, or must all art push the boundaries and sensibilities of the time?
When asked about the transgressive nature of art, art student Adrian Hackney (III) explained that “an artist can follow whatever path he or she chooses. Some art may exist simply to exhibit technical mastery, but the most powerful art makes a statement about humanity and the artist’s unique perspective.”
Ian Torney, Art Department Chair, expressed a similar sentiment about the necessity for art to be transgressive. However, he added that, while the Nesto’s current show asserts the cultural importance of artists of color, transgressive may not be the correct word.
“‘Transgressive’ suggests that [the artwork] is something else, while this show aims to profess the cultural importance of artists of color,” Mr. Torney said. Yet, if the cultural significance of black artists is stressed by their artwork, which is not always considered, then the exhibit must indeed be transgressive.
Transgressive art is known for its ability to inspire social change. Hopefully, this exhibit has started conversations on campus about systemic oppression in America, and hopefully the administration aims to continue to cultivate a forum for discussion, expression, and action regarding these topics.
Adrian Hackney (III) expresses that, while there are frequent opportunities for self expression regarding social justice in his art classes, even more opportunities would be appreciated.
Mr. Torney states that, with the intention of creating a space for expression, it’s not enough to simply bring the artists here. He hopes students feel that they can express themselves freely within Milton’s art courses.
Mr. Torney also explained that when he first had the idea for this exhibit, he wanted it to open Martin Luther King Day weekend. Instead, one of the resident artists, Equa Holmes suggested that the exhibit open some other time, to stress the importance of the black diaspora, regardless of the time of year, and to not tokenize the exhibit as “the MLK exhibit.” Viewers can see this decision reflected not only in the time period during which the exhibit opened, but also in the exhibit’s title, Black History Matters 365.
Akua Owusu (III) says that she appreciates the Art Department’s decision to run the exhibit outside of MLK day and Black History Month, as she often feels like the broader administration cares about black issues only when it’s convenient.
Black History Matter 365. Transgressive? Maybe. Provocative and Intriguing? Certainly. The exhibit is a must see, regardless of political or social opinions. Make sure to check it out before the end of the month.
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