Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tanekeya Word

I was intrigued by Kara’s post titled Afrofuturism in Pop Culture.  In the post Kara brings up artist Tanekeya Word and links to Word’s website.  I decided to browse the site and ended up coming across a blog post from Tanekeya Word from 3 days ago that stated she had been on an Octavia Butler reading binge.  I found that wonderfully interesting given that it is my job to connect her work with that of Butlers.  I also found a statement she makes under the “About” section of her website: “As an Afrofuturist artist my work seeks to visually answer the questions of what it means to be an African American/Black American woman with postmodern views journeying through various subcultures—in a globalized world—while imagining the next shift in the continuum of Black women who also journey.”  I think Butler attempts to answer some of the same questions.  Certainly Butler does imagine “the next shift in the continuum” and then explores the effects of the shift in her novels and short stories.  

I really enjoyed looking at Words paintings.  Many of the paintings in her “Donne Di Lusso” collection presumably depict black women.  I say presumably because for many of them, their skin is not dark or light, it is fluorescent and multi-colored.  They seem to depict black women because of other features such as face shape and hair.  I also assume Word paints women intended to be black because I know her to identify as an Afrofuturist and be concerned with black women issues in her work.  The multi-colored women in her paintings remind me of the black/white binary and the color line the binary upholds.  The women are literally colored, playing on an outdated term that was used to describe black people and Native Americans.  Word also states, “I imagine hybrid chics” (her emphasis).  This could be another reason to paint her women multi-colored.  

Butler imagines hybrid women as well in her characters.  Lilith, for example, exists as human, but with alien alterations.  She assimilates to Oankali society, but maintains a sort of passive resistance by holding onto certain parts of her human culture, like a human garden.  

In another collection, “Pretty Dope-A-Licious”, Word paints abstract, colorful women in traditional, ornate, oval frames.  There is a contradiction in these pieces in that the pictures look futuristic while the frames seem old-fashioned.  In her Project Statement, under the “Works on Paper” section of her website, she states the inspiration for the project to be the lack of black women vintage cameo brooches.  I would guess this is the case because vintage cameo brooches come from the Victorian era and most often depict aristocratic women of the time, which did not generally include any non-white women.   So Words project re-imagines the past in some ways but it also points toward the future. 

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