I just wrote an exhibition review about tennis shoes

Many Saturday mornings my younger brother gets up at the crack of down to get in line at the Finish Line store 30 minutes from my parents’ house. He is frantic and desperate to get a hold of the latest Michael Jordan tennis shoe, and I never understood why until I saw Josh Luber’s TED Talk about the $380 million underground sneaker market. “Sneakerheads,” many of them teenagers and men younger than 40, buy and sell coveted limited release sneakers online for bragging rights and a lot of money. Granted, my brother is quote unquote wearing his wealth, but he is not alone, and the High Museum of Atlanta’s “Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture” exhibition is proof.

I was assigned to review the exhibition for a magazine called Burnaway (read my review), and I had never seen so many people of color, especially young men in the midtown art institution in my life as I did on opening day. Many of them were swapping sneaker stories, wearing their best kicks, and sharing the experience on Snapchat. What a curator’s dream!

The exhibition offers a great overview of the history of tennis shoes in the western world and has over 150 pairs of sneakers from the 1800’s to today. There are some areas that warrant more depth, like the materialism and greed that fuel the sneaker market, the exclusion of women, the role racism plays in the showmanship of having cool kicks, and I also wish there were some more artistic looking sneakers, but, overall it is worth checking out. Read my review for more details.



What is the line between inspiration and appropriation?

“Many photos of Wenger show her wearing dresses made from Ankara fabric and outfits made with kente cloth. Where is the line between inspiration and cultural appropriation? Where does cultural assimilation turn into caricature? Would the fact that she helped the region become an artistic hub and restored the sacred shrines be taken into account? Would it matter?”

I was recently assigned to review an exhibit of the artist Susanne Wenger’s work, “Between the sweet water and the swarm of bees,” at Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum. Wenger is a European artist who moved to Nigeria in the 1960’s with her husband who was a professor there, and her aesthetic is very heavily informed by Yoruba mythology. She fell in love with the region, the religion, and the people and became a high priestess in the area. The exhibit featured screenprints of her work, and as I was looking at them I couldn’t help but wonder whether a white woman would be accepted creating African artwork today.

Sometimes the internet gives us buzzwords that have been traditionally reserved for academics and we toss them around like balls on a playground. I see the terms “cultural appropriation,” “respectability politics,” and “whitesplaining” all over blogs and social media and I can’t help but wonder whether the sometimes misuse of this rhetoric will hinder great artists from gaining large-scale exposure. There’s no blanket answer or solution either, because I have a totally visceral reaction to blackface, but have no problem with a white woman wearing cornrows and kente cloth. The line of what is appropriate moves depending on who you talk to, however, the issue now is more about who received the opportunity over whom because of race. If one of Wenger’s contemporaries was a black Nigerian woman artist and Wenger became famous, but the black woman did not, we would automatically attribute it to white privilege. This is the issue with racism and inequality– no one can shine, reign, and be excellent totally guilt-free, because someone, not something, was the opportunity cost. Just some food for thought…

Read the full review here: http://burnaway.org/review/between-cultures-susanne-wenger-carlos-museum/



Where can art exist? Graffiti versus vandalism…

“What was once seen as scribbles by rebellious kids, however, has joined the mainstream: a colorful, two-dimensional rendition of someone’s name on the side of a building goes from vandalism to fine art when that piece appears in a gallery.”
I recently interviewed an Atlanta-based graffiti artist named POEST about his first gallery exhibit. He has been “bombing” buildings with color since he was in middle school, during the mid-1980’s. The 40-something year old Brooklyn native has never fully stopped creating graffiti, even while he worked at a firm on Wall Street. Now, his work is transitioning from the streets to the gallery in an exhibit called Outside In at the Mason Fine Art Gallery in Buckhead.
He curated the exhibit, showcasing the work of other Atlanta-based graffiti artists whose messages we pass on our ways to work or to run errands each day. These colorful expressions of hip-hop and self are eye sores for some and public art for others. It begs the question, where can art exist? Why does the galley grant a level of acceptability that the street does not? After all, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Click the link below to read our full interview, where we talked about everything from rap lyrics to free speech to vandalism.

Read the full interview here: http://www.artsatl.com/2015/08/qa-poest/

Collier Heights

Georgia Tech Student Design

Lydia A. Harris: Georgia Tech Student Design, Collier Heights, 2013, archival pigment print.

I imagine that when most people in Atlanta hear the words “Bankhead Highway” or “Northwest Atlanta” they think of the ghetto. At least that is what the connotation has been my entire life– that anywhere outside of Midtown is not somewhere you want to be after dark. But there is a neighborhood in Northwest Atlanta that is beautifully preserved and looks like something out of an episode of Mad Men. Collier Heights was the first Atlanta community built, developed, and inhabited by upwardly mobile black people for upwardly mobile black people.

Photographer Lydia A. Harris was visiting Atlanta from Boston in 2010 and stumbled upon this neighborhood of custom brick ranch and split-level homes. As she started to research the area she found out that it was home to a who’s who of black elite– Martin Luther King, Jr., Bill McKinney, Ralph David Abernathy, and Donald Lee Hollowell, to name a few. She kept taking pictures of the community and the result is an art exhibit, book, and upcoming documentary.

Read about it here: http://www.artsatl.com/2015/06/photographer-lydia-harris/

Celebrating strong African women in color

MuluqueenWould you leave your job working as a T-shirt designer for a major denim company in Istanbul to move to Atlanta with no money and no plan– only talent? A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to interview an artist named Hirut Yosef, and that is exactly what she did. She designed jerseys and graphic tees for Mavi Jeans, and one year ago she uprooted herself to live with her sister, brother-in-law, and niece in Atlanta. Today, her exhibit Chalom Yashan is on view at the Marcus Jewish Community Center through March 31.

Moving to Atlanta was one of many long journeys that she has taken in her life–she is from Israel, by way of Ethiopia. She landed in Israel at age 5 after her family walked over 400 miles to Sudan in order  flee famine and war. Read it all here.

“American Sabor” shows how Latin rhythms shaped U.S. sound, at Atlanta History Center

At the Palladium in Nuevo York, where during the 40s.

Check out my latest review for ArtsATL.com!

“the exhibition makes the point that 20th-century Latin music in the United States was inherently political. A display of album cover art and videos throughout the show help tell that story. Unfortunately, the text doesn’t always do its part. Although a discussion of Cesar Chavez’s protests with the United Farm Workers of America mentions that the movement was concurrent with and in solidarity with protests for the civil rights movement, it misses the opportunity to examine how or if the music explored the discrimination faced by black Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Cubans.”

Read it all here.