With reference to Lorna Simpson's oeuvre, discuss the role of the African American artists, should race be their primary subject, why?
Lorna Simpson ia a comtemporary artist who makes some artworks that are about race and some that are not. Discussing the the role of African American artists, should race be their primary subject?
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Artists and intellectuals coming from minority groups are often caught in complex debates about the relevance of their works for their community and how representative they are of their traditions and customs. There are artists who embrace and rework their past cultural heritage, making it significan to their present contruction of a distinctive identity. However, others fear that being identified as black (or gay or postcolonial or, generally, hyphenated) artists and thus become a speakers for the political instances of liberation of their particular groups limits their artistic freedom. Some critics, especially those writing from a Modernist standpoint, may find that art should tend to aesthetic purity and thus be above material concerns such as politics and race (this view of art has been challenged by postmodern skepticism about artistic purity).
On the opposite side of the debate, nationalist and liberation groups, such as Black Nationalism/Black Power, strongly demand that artists become accountable to their community of origin and put their art to the service of political causes. Of course, at least in democratic societies, artists have the freedom of choosing their own subjects and topics. It should also be stressed that postmodernism has problematized unified visions of ethnic and racial groups and has emphasized that different perspectives on racial heritage are possible. Because of this shift, the conception of a monolithic race identity has been replaced by plural identities that also take into account the influence of class, gender and sexuality on their formation.
Simpson is particularly aware of these intersection of race with other social constructs. Usually her photographies portrait the subject with her/his back to the viewer, escluding the face from the audience's gaze. She thus subverts the viewers' expectations and makes them think of the difficulty of acquiring precise information on the subject through the visual medium. In Guarded Conditions (1989), for example, the words "sex attacks" are repeated under 18 color polaroids of a woman giving her back to the photographer. The unusual position of the sitter makes the viewer wonder about the power relations that link the photographer, the sitter and the viewer. The woman becomes the object of the gaze. If the viewer is a man, his gaze could mean the sexual commodification of the black body and his involvement in an act of control and exploitation.
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