Sonic Art and Activism

Pack a panel full of the likes of feminist superstars Lorraine O’Grady, Kathleen Hanna, Damali Abrams, and Shizu Saldamando and you are bound to draw a crowd. Roughly 100 folks showed up to “Sonic Art and Activism: Feminist Art and Popular Music,” organized by A.I.R. Gallery Director Kat Griefen and Art History Professor at the University of Colorado-Denver Maria Elena Buszek. The event was held at the SOHO20 Gallery in New York today, February 13, 2011.

In the introduction, we were able to watch some of Damali Abrams’ newer work—a rap video that samples news clips talking about the “epidemic” of Single Black Women—and a live performance of Le Tigre’s “Hot Topic,” which actually mentions Lorraine O’Grady. O’Grady started off the panel by discussing her relatively unknown career as a music journalist, including a story in which she wrote an article about Bruce Springsteen and Bob Marley and the Wailers performing at Max’s Kansas City in 1973. Her editor at the Village Voice did not publish the article, telling her it was “too soon.” It was only just published now in a book on Max’s Kansas City.

Questions of the self, the role of feminist art in society as a whole, and the struggle with risking accusations of narcissism in using the Self as source material dominated the conversation. O’Grady analyzed the dismissive views of art focusing that on the self as a way to overcome the limitations imposed on womanhood and femininity. “There are so many images of black women in the media, but how many are put there by black women?” Abrams responded, with Saldamando adding that use of the Self provided agency to women artists by controlling the images of themselves and how they would be interpreted.

The panel ended with a quick go around of what everyone was listening to and a Q&A session with the audience. Highlights included Abrams’ love of Kanye West and panel organizer Buszek talking about singing Public Enemy with her four-year-old daughter. The Q&A included questions touching on issues ranging from the lack of women of color in art and the role of family as a source of inspiration or material to how to be a good ally through creative work and humor in feminist art.

The panel was diverse in its amazingly qualified speakers. From O’Grady’s blooming art career, including her recent piece, “The Last of the Modernists,” which includes juxtapositions of printed photos of Charles Baudelaire and Michael Jackson to Abrams’ daily video diary that transforms the everyday into a therapeutic examination of the Self. The audience laughed at the jokes sprinkled throughout the two-hour panel and nodded empathetically to some of the personal stories shared by the artists. It was surprisingly informal and many of the panelists turned to each other after the talk to express their excitement for meeting each other.

For more information on the galleries that sponsored “Sonic Art and Activism,” go to A.I.R. Gallery, SOHO20, and The Feminist Art Project.

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