Talk: 1979! A Conversation Inspired by Howardena Pindell

1979 was a radical year in American art and pop culture that likewise had radical consequences for the art and life of artist Howardena Pindell. Exhibition curator Naomi Beckwith and Hamza Walker, Executive Director of LAXART, considered this seminal moment in history on March 23, 2018, in the Edlis Neeson Theater at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

Video Description


1979 was a radical year in American art and pop culture that likewise had radical consequences for the art and life of artist Howardena Pindell. Exhibition curator Naomi Beckwith and Hamza Walker, Executive Director of LAXART, considered this seminal moment in history on March 23, 2018, in the Edlis Neeson Theater at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago


January Arnall: Tonight is part of a series of programs around the exhibition Howardena Pindell: What Remains to be Seen. What Remains to be Seen is the first major museum survey for this groundbreaking multidisciplinary artist and presents a wide range of work from the 1960s to today. Tonight, exhibition curator Naomi Beckwith and Hamza Walker, curator and director of LAXART, will consider the year 1979. The year was a radical one in social and political history, as well as for the life of Howardena Pindell. Although he probably needs no introduction here in Chicago, before taking his position as director of LAXART, a nonprofit arts exhibition space in Los Angeles, Hamza was the director of education and associate curator at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago. In 2017, he cocurated Reconstitution, a group exhibition mounted at LAXART. In 2016, he cocurated Made in LA: a, the, though, only at the Hammer Museum. And in 2015, he curated A Painting is a Painting Isn’t a Painting at the Kadist Foundation in San Francisco. Naomi Beckwith, we all know, is the Marilyn and Larry Fields Curator here at the MCA. And she’s organized numerous exhibitions within these walls. In addition to the incredible exhibition upstairs on Pindell, recent exhibitions include We Are Here, You Are Here, The Freedom Principle, Experiments in Art and Music: 1965 to Now, and an Ascendant Artist show with The Propeller Group. Before I go, I just wanted to point out two upcoming programs that I think you might enjoy. On Monday the 26th at 6 pm in advance of the exhibition Otobong Nkanga: To Dig a Hole that Collapses Again, writer, art historian and photographer—Teju Cole joins us to discuss visibility and social dynamics, and to sign copies of his books after the talk. I hope you will also join us as we open Otobong Nkanga’s show, and she herself will be joining us on March 31st with an in-gallery performance called Solid Maneuvers at 2 pm, followed by a talk with the exhibition’s curator Omar Kholeif at 3 pm. Finally, just a quick note of housekeeping. We love to hear your thoughts on social media with the hashtag #mcachicago, but we ask you to now silence your phones. So join me in welcoming Hamza and Naomi to the stage. [Applause]

Naomi Beckwith: Good evening everyone. Thank you so much for coming out tonight, and I’m super excited to be in conversation with Hamza, who last time he was here, was not Executive Director Hamza. He was brilliant curator Hamza. And so I thank you for coming back from LA, and losing all that beautiful weather. And hanging out with us this evening. We invited Hamza here today to talk about and around, but mostly around, the Howardena Pindell exhibition. And we chose 1979 to talk about, because it’s a pivotal point, as January said, in Howardena’s life and in her work. But, it also seems to be a year where a lot of pressures on what we would maybe call modernism started to push in the art world. And so I thought I would have Hamza here in conversation with me to think about what some of those pressures are. And most importantly what the results were. I think for the case of what we think of as contemporary art now. And briefly for those of you who may or may not have seen the show or may not really understand what happened in 1979, at least around Pindell, I’ll just briefly let you know that Pindell had, sort of, two big, seismic events in her life, one of which we’ll talk about, that year. But there was a serious protest in the art world that set up the terms that we are still seeing today around representation and censorship. And then secondly, Pindell was in a car accident in 1979, and that changed her work radically. Where her work went from being purely abstract to more figurative, number one. And then number two, she thought after this life-threatening event that she would include politics and her political activism, that up until that point had been sort of in the world and outside of her art, she decided to include that in her work. But people kind of treated her like she lost her mind a little bit. And so, I wanted to maybe think about what the terms were for art in 1979, why Howardena’s audience changed, along with her work. Audience and her market, not just the work itself. But really, there was a separate reception of her work. So we’re going to walk through just a little bit. It looks like you’re closer to the slides, so I don’t know if you want to be the slide man tonight.

Hamza Walker: Along with a Howardena note, that’s . . .

Naomi Beckwith: But here we are with the picture of Howardena, by our very own Dawoud Bey, and I just kind of walked through that, walked through a little bit of her life. But what I think is fascinating thing about her is that she’s a figure kind of moving between downtown and uptown. And so is Dawoud. That year, in the early, late ‘70s, early ‘80s in New York. I don’t know, would you be able to set up a little bit of context around who and what were active in New York at that time?

Hamza Walker: Oh yeah. Certainly. I mean, I think the broader, even as a run-up to 1979, to think about the waning of you know, hegemonic modernism as born or exemplified by abstraction. And the kinds of shows that were occurring, just in advance of 1979. So, it was, it was a heterogeneous period, I would say more than anything. Going into ‘79 in a sense. I mean, you’ve got, just as a shrine here, there are three examples from 1979. But I mean, a kind of a, conceptual art being canonized in terms of all of its key figures have been, the work had been, they all had solo exhibitions by then, certainly. But by canonization I would mean more museums acquiring the work.

Naomi Beckwith: By then.

Hamza Walker: By 1979. You know, that wasn’t, the work had been absorbed.

Naomi Beckwith: Yeah, that’s true. And that’s a really interesting point, actually, because I’m thinking about the fact that Howardena worked with Lucy Lippard at MOMA. She worked there for twelve years, but under Lucy who was one of the folks setting up the terms of what conceptual practice would be. Dematerialization.

Hamza Walker: Yeah, so that would have been one of the strands of a kind of, it was still active, I would say, as a paradigm in 1979 to a large extent. But one that certainly, as portrayed in the work, that paradigm, it had been absorbed fully. But at the same time, people want to talk about a resurgence in figuration. And I don’t think that was necessarily, at least on the American scene—I mean one could make arguments for Europe’s, you know, painting in Europe, figuration over the course of the 1970s, neo-expressionism. But I would say that that abstraction, the power of the New York school, that the return to figuration was a much rockier road. So, if you were to look at key exhibitions from 1977, ‘78, ‘79, you’ve got you know Marcia Tucker’s Bad Painting Show. Which is very, very interesting in terms of it as a species of figuration. Most of the artists were working outside of New York, doing figured work. But you could almost place that show, you could treat it almost as a species of postmodern irony, if you wanted to. Sometimes retrospective.

Naomi Beckwith: Do you think the show is ironic?

Hamza Walker: Oh yeah.

Naomi Beckwith: Or was the painting itself ironic? My sense was the painting—

Hamza Walker: The frame, more than the painting itself.

Naomi Beckwith: The frame was ironic, yes.

Hamza Walker: Because the painters objected to being in the show on the grounds that they were drawings, like, no no no no no. My painting isn’t bad painting. Copley, Joan Brown, John Chatelain, I’m trying to think of, Neil Jenney, right? So it had key figures in it, at the time. So that would be one. Another would be Richard Marshall’s New Image Painting, 1978—1979. And you know, Nicolas Africano, Denise Green, Lois Lane, and I’ll show some examples. Barbara Rose, Painting: The Eighties. Which was in 1979, and it had a title that was supposed to announce trends, you know. But if you look at some of the work in terms of how it tried to balance the reintroduction of figuration, you know, even if you were to think about a key figure like Ross Bleckner, allegory, right? Or even early, you know, Julian Schnabel, what is the painting, it’s got vampire in the title? But a fragmented figure in a big red field, you know, so it’s really born out in the work. You know? I would say that it is just an immediate return to figuration. Louisa Chase, you know, who passed away in 2016 for example, right, is one. And it was interesting. Her obituary was, “Louisa Chase, painter of body parts and geometric shapes, passes at the age of 75…”

Naomi Beckwith: I was going to say. [Laughter]

Hamza Walker: And it’s like, thank you New York Times, I hope you’re kinder to me, should I ever be so honored to receive a New York Times obituary. Painter of body parts!

Naomi Beckwith: It’s kind of a—

Hamza Walker: Geometric forms!

Naomi Beckwith: But it’s kind of tentative.

Hamza Walker: Yeah, oh yeah.

Naomi Beckwith: [Crosstalk] The return of the figure.

Hamza Walker: Louisa, she was a big deal. She was a big deal, you know, in that moment. Susan Rothenberg, right? I mean, and Susan Rothenberg was in I believe Barbara Rose’s show, and Richard Marshall’s show. Robert Moskowitz, would be another, some other crossover figures. Lois Lane, you know, and this is a show, if I were working in a museum I would advocate for just, you know, Lois Lane 1979, just to bring these paintings back, these black on black paintings. Gary Stephan. Jennifer Bartlett. You know? And Bill Jensen. Just as a, and they were all included in one or another of those shows, right? So I think Gary Stephan, was Jennifer? Jennifer Bartlett was in New Image Painting. Bill Jensen was in Painting the Eighties, Barbara Rose’s show.

Naomi Beckwith: And again, fascinating that you’re not getting a return of any sort of classicism. And sometimes you’re not even getting a return to recognizable forms. So Bill Jensen is like the crazy biomorph.

Hamza Walker: Right, right, right, right, right. I mean, the kind of rhetoric classicism is much more I would say a European thing, and that’s particularly, like Sandro Chia, like an Italian, and that’s, who’s the critic? God. He did the aperto shows. He was the main critic for the trans avant gardia. Who championed Italian neo-expressionism. You know? But he was the one who really applied, and it was there in the work, I would say, between Chia, Clemente, Cucchi, you know. As parallels to this work.

Naomi Beckwith: This is all American, I realize—

Hamza Walker: This stuff, yeah.

Hamza Walker: But the real, 1977 Douglas Crimp Pictures Show. That was the one that has the, you know, that would forecast the work that would define the 1980’s. But I think it needs to be remembered that when he did this show in ‘77, that Barbara Rose comes two years later and does Painting the Eighties. And that whole argument is played out in October, with Douglas Crimp both, I think, he published a longer essay for Pictures, and he did The End of Painting. You know, in October. In which he was, you know, naming names. Barbara Rose was the key, and I can’t remember who, Richard, who the painter was, who was in Barbara Rose’s show who wrote an essay in Art Form against photography as an art, as late as 1979 or 1980. And then Crimp went after him, you know, and called her, called him Barbara Rose’s lap dog. You know? Which is like, second only to being called a lackey tool, in my opinion.

Naomi Beckwith: But what’s interesting too at that moment is what you get is a kind of ascendancy of conceptual tools. So, these works, in the most fundamental way, are figurative, but there’s a denial of what the figure is supposed to be. It’s the ascendancy of pop mixed with the weird conceptualism. You know—

Hamza Walker: Completely, completely.

Naomi Beckwith: And this is when the kind of postmodernism kind of shuts everything else down.

Hamza Walker: Well, I think that there’s, around, as far as an even longer run-up, right? To think of the 1950s as dominated by a figure like Clement Greenberg, right? With the critic in the studios. And he’s giving articulation to the arguments around abstract expressionism. So then there’s a major paradigm shift in the 1960s, and then you have artist writings, right? Where artists have to take matters into their own hands, to talk about work. Because the critics, it’s like no no no no no. They don’t have the language to deal with this major shift. Right? And even a figure like Judd as a critic is really interesting to think about, both as—

Naomi Beckwith: Addison is another one. Adrian Piper’s writing.

Hamza Walker: So then, you know, I’d say the coming of the ‘80s, the language that was used, it’s the advent of theory, right? That’s the, what’s the language that we can use to articulate this, yet another paradigm shift in art. So the rise of October and that whole crew. So I think assembling a language around the Pictures generation and appropriation, those kinds of things, is what, as far as like, again, that would just define the period. Outside the artistic front, in terms of the—

Naomi Beckwith: And that’s right, and so theory latches on to this. But there is no theorizing the quote-unquote Bad Painters.

Hamza Walker: Right, right, right, exactly. But, yeah, there’s no theorizing other than I would say, the rhetoric of allegory is a word that comes into play in the late 70’s. And Craig Owens jumps on allegory, you know, then you’ve got Ross Bleckner making certain claims about allegories played out in art form. So, and I think that has to do, though, with another way of turning a figure into, obviously it’s allegorical. A symbol, right? That would then allow it to be mobilized within the rhetoric, everything being a text, you know? So your other example is just work in strains, Lower East Side, Haring and Basquiat. And, this is interesting in terms of Howardena with the shift to Free, Black and 21.

Naomi Beckwith: White—

Hamza Walker: Oh, Free, White and 21. Free black in 21 is like, . . . [Crosstalk]

Naomi Beckwith: Free, Black and 21 was the utopia version that never got made. [Laughter]

Hamza Walker: [Laughing] That’s, oh. To think about the turn to video, to new media and how there were key figures, even, I know, Barbara Kruger. In terms of like you know, graphic design. Dara Birnbaum, where an articulation about not wanting to take up the mantle of painting, because that’s where patriarchy resides. So the kind of, like, would you call it an implicit feminist politics, played out in terms of media? Like, literally, in that kind of choice. Which I think, in terms of Howardena being a stalwart modernist, then going to video, you know, being played out as a way of—

Naomi Beckwith: But also, I think, it’s a good reminder of the multiple strains of things that are happening at any given time in the art world. So obviously the introduction of a kind of technology allows for a new form to be made. But what you have running alongside, let’s say, what becomes a dominant theoretical articulation, are things like a painting practice. And are things like another kind of sculptural practice. New installation, land art is also born in the ‘70s. I mean, there are all these strains happening in the art world.

Hamza Walker: Right.

Naomi Beckwith: And things are commonly getting lost.

Hamza Walker: But, it’s, but it’s funny. I think about it in terms of the historicization. Lost and now found, by a generation of scholars, who can take a more objective look at a period, and to really make sense about the competing kinds of claims that are made at any given moment. So even things, for me it’s like okay, we can talk about the return of figuration within painting. But, to say, you know, Dara Birnbaum, the language of appropriation. And so in terms of a critique of subjectivity, right? It’s like, could that possibly be played out on the grounds of painting, or does it need to have, is art parasitic to a media landscape, in which we need to critique representation, right? So that feels more, you know, in terms of Birnbaum, the more immediate and urgent place to locate. If we’re going to talk about you know, subjectivity, and identity formation, it’s going to be located in billboards, magazines, television, movies, and a critique of that. So it has this like, no. Painting, hell no. You know?

Naomi Beckwith: Though there was that really funny article too, in October of course, that was a critique of video art. And was it sort of, by Rosalind Krauss.

Hamza Walker: Oh yeah, Rosalind Krauss—

Naomi Beckwith: On Vito Acconci. It was all about narcissism and—

Hamza Walker: [Crosstalk] Oh my god, video narcissism, video, the conditions of narcissism.

Naomi Beckwith: Exactly.

Naomi Beckwith: So unless you’re looking at the outside world and what you consume, then you’re a complete narcissist.

Hamza Walker: But the application, but that’s coming from Krauss, right? Which is totally like, so it’s like, I think it’s brilliant for her to suddenly at least acknowledge, wait a minute. Let me look at this. So a kind of formalist, but the upshot being, it’s like her assessment, narcissism. And I have to say, it’s like, from her perspective of you know, having been like, a student of Greenberg. Like, that’s what that would have appeared as. So I can’t fault that. As a re-given, if you take her perspective into account. Like, what is this? Put your . . . runaround into the front of the camera self business. [Laughs]

Naomi Beckwith: Which of course becomes one of the receptions of Free, White and 21.

Hamza Walker: Right, right!

Naomi Beckwith: That it’s just navel gazing.

Hamza Walker: Like, “Here it is. Let me just tell you about my story,” right?

Naomi Beckwith: Which becomes a way of defusing its sort of political point.

Hamza Walker: You know, it’s interesting to think about the date, and I’m not, for me the date is actually secondary to, it could have happened in 1978, it could have happened in 1977, it could have happened in 1975. And it’s interesting that, it’s like, an actual physical traumatic event is where you can locate this shift. Right? As opposed to, Howardena is a stalwart modernist. I mean, she is subscribing to minimalism’s tenets of you know, an erasure of subjectivity, right? There is no history. No memory. And certainly not any autobiography. And that’s like Michael Asher has a quote. Leave that shit at home.

Naomi Beckwith: Also, prior to that, she’s a good student of Greenberg. And she doesn’t talk about him. But like so much of the early work in the show is an absolute articulation of how does one represent three dimensions on two. How do you make a three dimensional space without a horizon line, without perspective, without a natural form. How do you give yourself a sense of depth on a flat surface? 100% Greenberg in articulation.

Hamza Walker: And then going into conceptual art, which you can read as an extension in some sense of that, you know, logic. So, for the reintroduction of the self, like of, that’s pretty traumatic, you know. So I would say that line of thinking is totally borne out, played out in her work, in the most literal fashion, where it’s like, pick up the video camera, you know? This is where this is going to happen. I’m going to give it to you really direct. So. Here, and again ‘79, just thinking about, and I didn’t realize, Sculpture in the Expanded Field, ‘79. I thought it was earlier.

Naomi Beckwith: Exactly.

Hamza Walker: I have to go back and check the dates. I’m just like, oh. Man.

Naomi Beckwith: Only now is all this really being given real form, and real theory.

Hamza Walker: Yeah. And here, space is, I mean, the Studio Museum and what was going on.

Naomi Beckwith: Exactly. As I said early in the talk, Howardena’s an interesting character. Because she’s going between uptown and downtown. She has found a space, a feminist art space, downtown. She’s living uptown, though. She’s also trying to make inroads in these other spaces that are set up to be for us by us, for lack of a better phrase, an anachronistic phrase. Spaces that are culturally specific, like the Studio Museum where she walks in and says I’m a black artist, I live in Harlem, I want a show here, and she’s told to go back downtown with the white boys, because your work looks so much closer to that kind of aesthetic. And so she’s trying to navigate these spaces, I think both as a subject but also as a painter, and she’s making friends with people like Al Loving. They have a very close relationship where they’re thinking about what to do, painting as textile and shape. She’s, I think in many ways, aligned with Jack Whitten, playing with acrylic paint. Playing with materials. But the landscape is still so fragmented. You’ve got, you know, these cats theorizing downtown but her work doesn’t work with that. You’ve got the cultural specificity uptown and her work isn’t sliding into that quite easily either.

Hamza Walker: Right. Right. In the, you know, and it’s beautiful. I always say, I can’t remember what year, maybe it was 2010? Dawoud’s essay, “The Disappearing Black Artist.” Right? Which, Al Loving, Melvin Edwards, that generation of black artists who were engaged with abstraction were immediately eclipsed by another generation that then adopts figuration and the rhetoric of multiculturalism, right? Where they were the generation for whom it was like, “I don’t want to be a black artist. I just want to be an artist.” So that, you know, that turn, they suffered in some sense in terms of critique. It’s nice to be able to say, okay, Dawoud wrote that article in 2010, and how much has changed? And it’s like—

Naomi Beckwith: Specifically in the market.

Hamza Walker: [Crosstalk] Melvin Edwards is up in, you know, where is he? No, in Europe. Who took on?

Naomi Beckwith: The gallery?

Hamza Walker: Yeah, who took on Melvin Edwards’ work in Europe?

Naomi Beckwith: That’s a good question, in Europe.

Hamza Walker: It’s—

Naomi Beckwith: Not Zeno X?

Hamza Walker: Mm-mm, mm-mm, that was Jack Whitten.

Naomi Beckwith: That was Jack Whitten, yeah.

Hamza Walker: And he went over on, Hauser. But it was, oh god . . .

Naomi Beckwith: British? French? Italian?

Hamza Walker: No, no, no, German. German, German, German, German.

Naomi Beckwith: I got it! [Laughs]

Hamza Walker: It shows Danh Vō, and, but he’s in Berlin and New York. I can’t believe I’m blanking on the name.

Naomi Beckwith: Werner?

Hamza Walker: No, no, no, no, no, like Julie Ault had a show in New York. And when it hits, it will hit in a second, it will hit in a second. And he saw Melvin Edwards’ work, and I can’t remember where but went gaga over it. And now, represents—

Naomi Beckwith: And he has a lot of that going on.

Hamza Walker: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So that generation, in other words, is now having a measure of success, right? That Dawoud was saying they were closed, but now . . .

Naomi Beckwith: The sun’s shining, yeah.

Hamza Walker: Now the sun’s shining. And they’re making it rain. [Laughs] He said, what is that, the devil’s beating his wife, is that the old story? Like, the devil?

Naomi Beckwith: Yeah, yeah, is that—

Hamza Walker: When it’s raining and there’s sunshine, the devil’s beating his wife?

Naomi Beckwith: That’s what’s happening with black abstract artists right now.

Hamza Walker: Yeah, exactly! [Laughs] Is the devil beating his wife. Sun is shining, and it’s raining. So this other, you know, artist space, right? Which of course is a seminal age in the narrative that we’re setting up. ABC No Rio as an alternative space. 1980, A.I.R. Gallery.

Naomi Beckwith: Then this is the gallery, the women’s run, women’s showing gallery that Howardena helped found in 1972. So this is the kind of landscape, remember the alternative arts space? I mean, that’s also something really fascinating to think about in terms of how art is developing, especially in New York at this time.

Hamza Walker: Right. And it’s more, the idea of the artist run spaces that were founded in the 1970s, the mid-70s. You know, here, Randolph Street Gallery was amongst them. But they, as far as an alternative to what?

An alternative to commercial spaces, that could pick up the slack for what, at the time, were practices, video, performance, that didn’t have a commercial, right? So the spectrum of activity that wasn’t being allowed within commercial auspices was what those spaces—

Naomi Beckwith: Or museums either too. [Crosstalk]

Hamza Walker: Or museums.

Hamza Walker: But in some senses, you look at the history of the MCA and even LA MOCA in a way, in terms of, they were actually, I mean in terms of progressive, they were, I would say that there was a kind of a funny parallel, that they were quite aware of wanting to do things. Of what that full spectrum was. So when you were looking at things that were going on the MCA, you know, its founding. You know. In the 70s, it was like oh, wow, they were doing performance. They were progressive. They were on the progressive end of things.

Naomi Beckwith: Absolutely, and those were the opening salvos of this museum. Which I think is also a very good point that you just brought out, too, that these were museums of contemporary art, right?

Hamza Walker: Oh yeah. Yeah yeah yeah.

Naomi Beckwith: Right? And so right now you also have a full kind of naming and articulation of the contemporary. And you know, this is starting to happen in the ‘60s.

Hamza Walker: As opposed to abstract expressionism, and the painting.

Naomi Beckwith: The modern arts. The MOMAs of the world.

Hamza Walker: Right, right.

Naomi Beckwith: Exactly.

Hamza Walker: Right, that’s really, really great. To think about the museums themselves as the contemporary, in the names of those institutions, right? There’s a break there. But then I would say that with alternative spaces, there’s another break. Right? So, they’re found in the 1970s, but in terms of their footing, in another way, the 1980s is where they find another kind of bearing, right?

Naomi Beckwith: That’s an interesting point, yeah.

Hamza Walker: So it isn’t simply that they’re alternative commercial spaces. But you know, the shift to the Reagan years, and a disavowal of the 1960s, I would say, gave those spaces another kind of raison d’etre? In terms of fight the power, right? If you’re going to define the 1980s as a wholesale dismantling of the 1960s, right? It’s like, wait a minute, what was the trajectory of the civil rights movement? Those kinds of questions. So, these spaces, and Exit Art is 1982. And then Group Material, which is founded. And this is the earliest, at least black and white, old school documentation, even that they were founded in 1972. 1982 is the year, they were founded in 1979, I’m sorry. 1979, is Group Material. 1982 is when they gave up their space. And that’s when they resort to doing billboards, just public, right? Magazine inserts, curatorial activities in a number of the alternative spaces around town. So as far as an ethos or milieu about the formation of, you know, I don’t know the extent to which the term, and I hate the term, political art. But I think it is a term of convenience, that found it, that got put into circulation over the course of the 1980s, right? Where a kind of, it was shorthand for work that was an immediate response to that context. You know, essentially, in terms of the naming of names. What time is it? But I think that it is really important to, as a kind of groundwork, for Howardena’s get woke, you know? And taking on you know, where did the rhetoric of diversity and multiculturalism and a kind of activism, how did it percolate up and through these spaces? So, that then a kind of model however nascent it may have been for things like the black cultural emergency action group, you know, to form. I think feminism would be really important for that, so.

Naomi Beckwith: Exactly. And—

Hamza Walker: So here we land on the key event from ‘79.

Naomi Beckwith: Key event for at least Howardena from 1979. So, the Artists Space. The space that showed the British Left and was ostensibly progressive, had a lot of public funding, when such things existed, put on a show called The Nigger Drawings. And it was a show, a solo show—

Hamza Walker: Was it Donald Newman?

Naomi Beckwith: Yeah. By Donald Newman.

Hamza Walker: Yeah, we forgot his last name. [Crosstalk]

Naomi Beckwith: Who took the Newman off his name, he used to refer to himself as The Donald.

Hamza Walker: Oh, The Donald, that’s right.

Naomi Beckwith: The Donald.

Hamza Walker: The? Was it The?

Naomi Beckwith: I’m not making this up.

Hamza Walker: Did he say The?

Naomi Beckwith: The Donald.

Hamza Walker: He referred to himself as The?

Naomi Beckwith: In third person.

Hamza Walker: I forgot the fact that he removed his last name. But I, The? Holy shit.

Naomi Beckwith: Yeah. [Laughter] And so, this became a flashpoint for the art world, obviously. I mean, maybe not obviously. It wasn’t obvious to some people that this should have been a problem. So Artists Space puts it up. A few sort of ad hoc committees, and ad hoc actions came up in response to this show, and there were multiple ways in which they wanted to address this. One was just about the language itself. The second was, which was you know, a free speech issue [crosstalk] at the time.

Hamza Walker: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

Naomi Beckwith: But then there was a question of funding. Should an organization that using language like this get public funding? Especially from black taxpayers? I should point out that The Donald is, or was, not black. I don’t know if he’s still alive, actually. And there was nothing in the subject of the works, which were mostly sort of charcoal drawings and of Photostat, and/or Photostat reproductions. There was nothing about race there. Not that that would make this better. But. There was nothing in relationship to—

Hamza Walker: The title.

Naomi Beckwith: To, yeah, exactly, to the title, in the works themselves. And then lastly there was a question of what became a sort of internecine art world war, and I think some of that shows up on the next slide. So you get like the black emergency cultural coalition coming mostly from uptown, downtown, staging protests. But you get a lot of quote-unquote woke folks in the art world. Also, putting pressure on that, on the institution, asking them to at least explain themselves. And this really does become a huge conflict within the art world. It’s an uptown versus downtown thing. In some cases it’s a white versus black thing. It plays out in the pages of October, where most of the editorial board can’t understand why people would assume the word nigger would be insulting.

Hamza Walker: Oh yeah, right, it’s right there. You mentioning earlier. It’s Douglas Crimp, Craig Owens . . .

Naomi Beckwith: Yeah, it’s Craig Owens . . .

Hamza Walker: Actually coming to the defense of the show. Which is almost, it’s not even almost, it’s unthinkable now. To go back and realize wow, these were the avatars of a kind of a postmodern irony, in a sense. Right? Making it kind of, and, as though there were an implicit kind of critique going on there, which didn’t exist in any kind, the space didn’t come, you know. It wasn’t borne out anywhere. Nobody was saying anything. We just, implicit critique. The air you breathe. As though implicit critique were self-evident. No.

Naomi Beckwith: Well, also there’s this sort of perpetual attempt to denature language. That happens in this sort of theoretical model. So not to say it wasn’t useful. But there’s a sense you can never take language at its word. No pun intended.

Hamza Walker: Right.

Naomi Beckwith: But I’m more fascinated by the fact that these modes of critique, and this mode of postmodern irony comes through race. Right? As its own kind of provocation. Like if you really want to push a button. If you really want to get to the slipperiness of things, then race is where you land.

Hamza Walker: But. That, the fact it is being, and this happens again, and I had one of the most intense tête-à-têtes, it was quite beautiful. I did a little talk on Jason Rhoades. At Hauser & Wirth.

Naomi Beckwith: And Jason Rhoades is?

Hamza Walker: Jason Rhoades is [crosstalk].

Naomi Beckwith: Famous, for lack of a better word, for making an Italian installation called Black Pussy, scatter artwork.

Hamza Walker: Right. And it was really, it was me and Bennett. Bennett Simpson. And Paul McCarthy, and Jason was one of Paul’s students, ones he was proud of. Paul was at front row center. And afterwards, Paul McCarthy and I, you know, got a little bit of liquor in us. And we’re talking, and we, he was saying, “Well, the preservation of artistic freedom has to be maintained at all costs.” And it was just like okay, but the idea that who, what is the profile of that freedom? It’s like, oh, white male. Like, who’s going to go off and use race as the crux to prove that he’s free to do whatever it is that he wants.

Naomi Beckwith: On the back of.

Hamza Walker: On the back of, right. This is, you know, so that was a, so the continued existence of that. But I think that that is precisely what was going on then, right? That this was about, and so with Owens and Crimp championing, and saying, “No, no, art is a space of criticality, which is free, so it’s all tied to that freedom” was, but at the same time, it was like, no, no, no, no, no. That is, the, I don’t want to say like the province of the critique. Or it’s like usurpation. Or it being kind of in advance of an advance. It, overshadowing the work of other artists in a way, so to think about the ‘90s, right? And the issue of a critique of stereotypes. So it’s almost like this exhibition happens in advance of latter-day ‘80s and early ‘90s artists where the issue of blackface, right? And how the parallels between arguments here, right? In advance of work that has yet to be ten years later. Then it’s like, let’s take on the stereotype. Let’s actually try and take this, which involved black artists at the time. I would say culminating in Kara, and Kerry James Marshall. [Crosstalk]

Naomi Beckwith: Hank Willis Thomas.

Hamza Walker: Right. And so, it’s a, so the results being wholly different, right?

Naomi Beckwith: And the critique being elsewhere as well. Before we jump to Kara in one second, I want to go back for one second too and add a biographical note for Howardena. So Howardena at this point, in 1979 is still working as a curator at MOMA. And she falls on the side of those who at least want to take or call the Artists Space to task for the title of the show or even you know showing this man in the first place. And she gets caught up in this kind of to and fro around the space of freedom and preservation thereof, versus what others call censorship. So essentially she was considered an agent of censorship at MOMA, and it became so untenable for her there, as an artist protesting another artist, she left. So this really changes her career. She leaves the curatorial world at this moment because she can’t even have a productive conversation around these two terms that I think are still playing out, sadly, forty years later.

Hamza Walker: Right. Yeah. But I think, and this is where a real, you know, genuflect to Howardena, saying that she took a hit. You know? In a space and at a time when you know, kind of, suppleness of argument. But to really say, you know, it’s untenable at MOMA. You know? She’s black, she’s there, there’s nobody else around. And the institution, which was so proud in hiring Darby as a consultant. Remember? I came to her like, we don’t have any black curators. And it’s like, I cannot believe that this can, in the New York Times, it’s like there’s no reflection. There is no . . . I’ll get around to it, you know? Like you know, but it’s an extension of the story, right? And think about Howardena at the time, but there’s no, who was there to change? She’s there, and there’s nobody else. You know? And it was an untenable situation to say there’s no rhetoric or language like institutional sensitivity. Like, was the work even in the collection? To even begin to have this kind of dialogue. Let alone one that would side with her position or point of view. Which I believe, in some sense, would be the case now. Right? To think about that not being the case at all then. So.

Naomi Beckwith: Absolutely. And as I said earlier, then her work radically changes from here. So here’s a woman who is rather politically active on the street, in the world, but not in the studio. She has the kind of postminimalist erasure going on in the studio from this point on. She realizes that then her work, and the art world itself, is a great platform for her kind of political activity. I should also say she starts writing too.

Hamza Walker: At that time?

Naomi Beckwith: Yeah, I mean, she was writing a little bit about her work up until this point. But then by ‘79 she’s starting to do a series of essays and studies called “Art World Racism.”

Hamza Walker: Right, right, right.

Naomi Beckwith: And she continues to do these kind of demographic studies of the art world from here on.

Hamza Walker: Exactly, when the studies . . . [Crosstalk]

Naomi Beckwith: Looking at the number of women and the number of artists of color who are shown in museums and galleries.

Hamza Walker: Right, so she really does lay the groundwork for counting. Keeping count and keeping track. In which case it becomes memory. Somebody’s got to start somewhere. Asking the question, like, has it gotten better? “Ain’t a damn thing changed.”

Naomi Beckwith: But now we can prove it. [Laughter]

Hamza Walker: Now we can prove it!

Naomi Beckwith: But then we come to Kara. And I wanted to come to Kara, we make a jump of what, 30 years. 20 years, sorry, I can’t count. 20 years. Because as I say, if ‘79 is the year that Howardena becomes woke, then by the late ‘90’s, you see the product of this kind of political instinct that she’s developed, starting in the late ‘70s.

Hamza Walker: It’s, and it’s great, being invited to do this. Because this is one of my—I mean, I’ve known Howardena Pindell’s work. But having been, you know, involved with the exhibition of Kara’s work in 1997, and this is just on the eve, right after this, she gets the MacArthur. And that’s what triggers Betye Saar and Howardena having the whole petition.

Naomi Beckwith: You might want to spell it out for people, actually, for those of you who don’t know, yeah.

Hamza Walker: Yeah, she gets, Kara gets a MacArthur award in ‘97, it is ‘97. And it triggers Betye Saar and Howardena Pindell to take up, they actually just do a petition, and, asking artists and curators, I mean, in similar fashion to The Donald show at Artists Space, to sign on, in protest, of the exhibition and collecting of Kara Walker’s work. And real, you know, and this, in terms of, remember Martin Puryear getting the petition and wondering, and saying, should I, and eventually saying no. He didn’t sign. He didn’t sign, you know. Richard Serra asking, it was very funny now, I look back. I had a conversation with him about Kara’s work in ‘98, you know. And he looked and he said, he got that first Renaissance Society catalog, and he went through it page by page. And it was great. Serra looked at it, he was, this is really powerful stuff. I’m like, yeah. And so the issue of the petition. But then, that question about artistic freedom, right? To then say, it’s like all right, here we have a model of, you know, a wild child that’s got to get out there. But the generational divide between Kara and Howardena. So in some sense, now I have to respect that petition. When I think about it coming out of their positions in 1979, which I was unable to do in 1997.

Naomi Beckwith: Of course not, no.

Hamza Walker: I was virulently against their petitioning, because my sympathies were with Kara because we’re the same generation and to say, this is a post–civil rights, a post-Roots thang. You’ve got to understand. And they’re like, no we don’t. No we don’t. We want more dignified images of blacks, you know. But to them, the deeper questions that go on in Kara’s work, in terms of what’s at stake, right. I think of it as the site of a kind of humanism, you know. Where the work would go. But, those objections and again the context for those objections having some legs to it.

Naomi Beckwith: Absolutely. Because I think if you look at a title of Kara’s work, and this isn’t probably the best-case scenario, but you know, if you see the word nigger, which does show up in some of her titles, I could see how you’re triggered to go back to The Donald.

Hamza Walker: The Donald, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Naomi Beckwith: And how you can look at a certain type of provocation as critique from a moment in the late ‘70s, and see that reiterated even in the work of the late ‘90s.

Hamza Walker: But by then, by, I mean. By the mid-90s, I mean you know in terms of looking at a, that series of painters, who was betwixt and between, in terms of abstraction. Right. To then look at Kara’s work and be like, no no no no no. There’s no betwixt and between here. It’s full on figurative. There’s no doubt.

Naomi Beckwith: And narrative.

Hamza Walker: Yeah, and narrative.

Naomi Beckwith: I think is something that was missing from some of those earlier even figurative works.

Hamza Walker: Exactly. There’s no vestiges of a modernism here. It’s gone, and now, so as far as a subject position, being articulated in figurative work, black and white, really direct terms. That’s it’s strength. You know. There was no, it’s not equivocating.

Naomi Beckwith: Not in the least bit.

Hamza Walker: Not beholden to that kind of older paradigm, in a way. Should we go to questions? I don’t know.

Naomi Beckwith: You might want to go to questions. Now that we’ve landed at the very end.

Hamza Walker: We can keep going.

Naomi Beckwith: Oh, until next Tuesday. If you have a question, we ask that you just wait until someone brings you a microphone so everyone can hear your question. Feel free to raise your hand as the lights are coming up. There’s a question down here.

Female: Thank you very much. I noticed that one of the pictures that belongs to the Museum of Contemporary Art was donated I think in 1978 by N.A.M.E. Gallery, or ‘70, it was like the same year. Did she show here in Chicago?

Naomi Beckwith: Howardena?

Female: Yeah, at that time?

Naomi Beckwith: So that work is a work that came into the collection as part of a portfolio series. So it was one of many things, which was really interesting and some people have made jokes about that. It’s well that Howardena’s first work in the MCA collection actually had to come through like the group . . .

Hamza Walker: Entailed?

Naomi Beckwith: Yeah, and entailed in other things. But to, a longer answer to your question is that she did start showing in Chicago in the ‘80s. through the N’Namdi Gallery. And I think was another fascinating aspect around this kind of reception around Howardena’s work is by the time her work switches, between the ‘70s and ‘80s, her audience switches. Her market turns over completely. So that you get more of a black collector base after 1979. So that a lot of people who aren’t black didn’t know that she was showing here in the ‘70s, sorry, in the ‘80s and then in the ‘90s.

Hamza Walker: So was that, and that piece came in, it was acquired in ‘78?

Naomi Beckwith: That’s a good question. I’m going to have to look at the acquisition date. It was definitely made—

[Inaudible audience comment]

Naomi Beckwith: So then that would be ‘78.

Hamza Walker: That’s what I was asking, it was acquired.

[Inaudible audience comment]

Naomi Beckwith: But the short answer is that’s an edition work that came in in portfolio.

January Arnall: We’re all just stunned in silence.

Hamza Walker: I know, did I turn on the question thing too fast?

[Inaudible audience comment]

Hamza Walker: No. But it was funny, in terms of even that, I could talk more about the conversation with Paul McCarthy about artistic freedom.

Female: Hi.

Naomi Beckwith: Hi there.

Female: Thank you for coming. So, I was wondering if you could reflect on today’s situation with representation and maybe Howardena, she’s a teacher and she’s very influential. And I was wondering if maybe you could talk about her situation as a, or her position as an educator of future artists and her impact now, and the repercussions of her work and her positions on other artists. If you’ve seen that continuing. Either of you. Thanks.

Naomi Beckwith: And are we talking about, sorry, just the work itself, the objects, or are we also talking about a kind of political position? Okay. So what’s fascinating to me about Howardena is that in terms of the babies that come from her work, I see mostly a formal, a formal kind of thing play out. And one of them, when you talk to a lot of artists who you would necessarily think of in terms of Howardena, there’s a lot of “I love Howardena,” and I’m thinking of younger black artists. Mark Bradford. Rashid Johnson. Mickalene Thomas. They love her. Love her. And I think, for them, she’s allowed for a couple of things. One is this kind of negotiation of the figure. Another is a play between painting and sculpture. That’s so important for them. And I think particularly in the case of Mark Bradford, this use of distressing paper over and over again to kind of move between something that’s legible and illegible. I don’t know what really happens in her classroom in terms of a kind of politic. But I’d wager to say that she’s someone who I think on the surface believes in a form of artistic freedom. Like she believes that a student should be allowed to explore a certain extent. But what I’m fascinated by is the sense of a limit on freedom. In the case of this petition that started with her and Saar, one of the main sticking points of that petition was this idea that it’s their responsibility as women of color to make good representations of people of color. And they couldn’t understand why someone like Kara could make this kind of image that was what they felt was denigrating and deleterious to black people. Not thinking about the sort of fantasy element in there. But in their mind this made for a kind of white consumption. That it fed into what was already a kind of prefigured notion of what blackness was. And so there’s a sense of responsibility, for the Saars and Pindells of the world. There may be a kind of not-freedom, but again these gifts are supposed to be moved in a certain direction.

January Arnall: I should just say on May 17th Naomi is leading another panel about Howardena that will specifically address her practice between these different fields of curatorial practice and teaching practice and art practice. So that will be something to look forward, to really dive into that.

Male: Good evening. I’m interested in the concept of uptown and downtown and this kind of binary of black and white, in regards to the inclusion of the figure. And the kind of exiling of black artists who were non-figurative and non-representational. And why, because I think you mentioned, Naomi, that her work became more collectible by a lot of African American collectors when she started to insert the figure. And why those two aesthetics, when you looked at someone like Hammons, even someone such as Barkley Hendricks, who’s exclusively working with the figure. If you could kind of tease out for us a little bit of that difference and why that figurative representation was important.

Naomi Beckwith: Shall I start, or do you want?

Hamza Walker: Yeah, I mean, in terms of the uptown-downtown being played out on the terms of figuration versus abstraction. I mean, key intermediaries, right? Like a Norman Lewis, you know, where I think he and the subsequent role that he would play over the course of the 1960s in terms of direct political activism. So it’s not, so the picture that we have of some of these artists. There’s the work. Then there’s them. Then there’s who they knew, right? And then there’s the grainy black and white photograph of Norman Lewis with the bullhorn, protesting Harlem on my Mind. Or Norman Lewis, siding with you know trying to get a coalition, black labor, right? And labor struggles as an issue. So I think of that as the full, you know, quite beautiful in a sense to have a kind of historical hindsight that takes a figure like, I can’t separate out Norman Lewis’s work from the person as a whole, as opposed to at that time. How did those, how did they balance all that stuff that seems contradictory, right? So I think on the one hand that they, artists wanted to maintain an integrity to the principles of abstraction. But they didn’t, that did not, and if that did displace another kind of agency, then so be it. You know, to another realm of direct action. And I do think of that as again in historical hindsight, part of the strength of the work, right? It’s dialectical, and if I can’t necessarily locate a dialectical tension within the work itself, then I might have to resort to the biography. You know, the artist will say, “No, no, no, no, no, this isn’t just a question of ‘I’m not just going to look at these pretty shapes and colors.’” There is that, right. But there’s a lot more going on here at play, that then becomes, in terms of being taken into account. In terms of the valuation of the work. That then becomes what makes that work important. And then those considerations are not excluded from the work, in which case the work is then devalued. You know, it’s just being purely formalist work. Right? So I don’t know if that addresses the question. For a historical figure like a Norman Lewis. In another sense, if I were to kick it up to today the whole bevy of young black figurative painters, is almost like, I don’t know what I did. I turned around for one second, and then I turned back around, it’s like, [gasps] where did you come from? Was there a switch at Yale that just went on and suddenly all these, who is the ringleader? Kende? Kerry? Who’s responsible? And, which, in terms of the swing of a pendulum in a bigger sense. And to think about Howardena and her importance as being somebody who’s right in the middle of that swing. So now I feel like, now we’re on the other side of this arc with all this figurative work, right. But I think whether or not you, how you might feel about Howardena’s work pre-’79 versus post-’79. The work is important just because these kinds of debates, that’s where they’re being played out. You can watch that kind of narrative upstairs, for better or for worse. You know, there’s no, I don’t think there’s anywhere else to go other than that work. We’ll be having this conversation in a theoretical sense, but who are the artists that we’re talking about. So look at a figure like Al Loving. Where you know, he stayed at a level of abstraction, you know. So.

Naomi Beckwith: Yeah, I mean, that’s part of the reason why doing this show was so fascinating for me. Because of course Howardena’s work itself is incredible. But the variation within it is telling, right? And those kind of variations you can see, as you say, those kind of debates working out in the art world. I think it’s also something a little bit more subtle happening too. I think a lot of it has to do with Howardena’s own activities, where, in a lot of her political activity, though she’s working against all these kind of prejudices that she sees, her loudest voices are the feminist. So I think some of that resistance is happening uptown. The Studio Museum is also the fact of like, where have you been? Like, we didn’t see you protesting Harlem on my Mind. And we didn’t see you protesting the Black Artists in America show. In fact, she was in the Black Artists in America show. And she refused to pull her work. She was like, “Hey, look, this is a real opportunity. I’m taking it,” right? And the work that was shown at the Whitney is upstairs, right now. And so she was also savvy about career stuff. She did not obviously care for racism, but I think there was also a sense that no one understood what side she was on fully. I mean, and to go back to this question too of like, of figuration being a bit more palatable, figuration being an uptown thing. Even that was a little bit of a belated reception. So if I think about someone like Barkley Hendricks, I mean, his first show at the Studio Museum was deep in the ‘80s or ‘90s. I mean, we’re not talking about him getting a big audience in the ‘70s either. Studio Museum is still committed to a lot of weird kind of post-Fluxus work throughout the ‘70s. So it wasn’t totally the case, even, that somehow Howardena’s work was that much of an outlier. I think there was also a case of who’s allying themselves with whom.

January Arnall: We have time for one more.

Hamza Walker: It’s really, really nice how the, you know, thinking about even if the reception and the canonization of a figure, you know, of Howardena in a way or of Barkley Hendricks, and how it’s just now, you know, we might be having this discussion along the lines of race. But I just feel like it’s a, no no no no no, just as soon as you have, you can get like this or you can get like that, right? But it’s, you know, I make the joke about Kerry James Marshall and William Pope.L being born in the same year, right? Or when you think about it, like, oh my god, those are two totally different artists. Or you think about like, oh no, this is great. These are the terms on which like, you know, what does a black art look like? Or does, having to be figurative. No, it doesn’t have to be figurative. It can be whatever it is you can, but I think that the terms on which it would be eroded would be, you know, consideration of Hendricks and Howardena. Together only to then like break a stereotypical notion about what a black artist can be or ought to do. And now is the time that their work is being appraised to make that possible.

Naomi Beckwith: Exactly. Totally.

Hamza Walker: So that work is now, in a way.

Female: Hi. I guess, your last statement sort of touched upon the question that I was preparing for, it really had to do with the gender dynamics and Howardena’s commitment to feminism and how that played out in the sort of uptown-downtown dynamic. And I guess I just wanted you to say a little bit more about that. Because I think you started to talk about the ways in which the Studio Museum, like those very early shows, like I think there’s like Sam Gilliam and Melvin Edwards and William T. Williams and Tom Lloyd, like all these people are showing that are abstraction but they’re all men. And so I guess my question was just about if you would say just a little bit more about how you think the kind of gender dynamics and her kind of commitment to feminism might be also playing out in that conversation that’s happening with black artists uptown.

Naomi Beckwith: Well, you just laid out the base word for that, so thank you, Janet. But what I would layer on to that is Howardena’s particular return to the figure. So whereas Barkley is doing these really wonderful art historically based obvious images of other folks, Howardena’s return to figuration is all about her subjectivity. Again, the quote-unquote aesthetics of narcissism if you will. And her return to figuration also isn’t through a form of academic expertise. So what you get with a lot of these other folks, men, working with the figure, is academia. What you get with Howardena is a kind of embodiment onto the canvas. Those works upstairs, she’s not drawing the body. She’s laying down on a canvas and then tracing her own figure. And she’s making this kind of memento of her body and putting her presence literally onto the canvas. When she is doing this academic thing, it’s mainly the face. And that’s about it. But I don’t think she’s really interested in the kind of practice of painting and showing heroism as part of her painting practice. She’s really interested in the kind of instantiation of herself onto the canvas as subject and as object. So that’s a different kind of figuration altogether, and one that I think is totally, wholly a feminist enterprise. It’s one that she talks about quite clearly as being inspired by Ana Mendieta. One where she’s thinking about the eccentric abstraction that Lucy Lippard lays out, one that comes from working with materials through the body and through the hand. She talks about Eva Hesse as being a big, how do you call it, influence in that way. She’s friends with Faith Ringgold, and they’re also tearing up canvasses and cutting it out. Much in the same way that Howardena does it early on in a square fashion. But later on, this cutting the figure out and putting it back in is still a kind of quilting practice. So there are all these ways in which she as a woman is thinking of the figure in another way. Literally trying to remove that heroic hand and trying to get away from academia, very specifically. And then there’s also the sense of her protest. Her protest happens with other women, because I’m sure she felt safe with those other women. She went to Yale at a time when it was not coed. And you have to remember yeah, the grad school was coed. But the program wasn’t 50/50 or 60/40 as it is now, women to men. And there are no women undergrads. So she’s in an incredibly male-dominated space. There are no other black women at Yale at that time, period. So she finds women to be her comfort. That is her group. Now, all sorts of problems arise with that, that play out in the video Free, White and 21. So while she’s trying to protest against racism and definitely against sexism, it’s really the boys who are getting together, though, and doing all these conferences inside the museum. There are no women speaking at Black Artists Now at Met.

Hamza Walker: Or, or the black arts in the mainstream.

Naomi Beckwith: Exactly.

Hamza Walker: It was all male artists.

Naomi Beckwith: All boys. All boys.

Hamza Walker: All men, black artists in the mainstream. And so, but it’s, it’s interesting to think of you drawing all the parallels of her affiliations, very conscious acknowledgements of her peers at that time. What I think is great about the question is, to what extent would that, would there have been any kind of hierarchy between race, gender and, but then to say okay, could you, knowing that something like black artists in the mainstream were all black men, right? So then you have to say, would you, to be pointed, would it offend this position, even a black feminist position to look at that, right? As an example of yet a nested kind of patriarchy, right? That you have to attack. It’s like, let’s go for at home, you know, as a thing. And I don’t know if that was ever consciously addressed by Howardena.

Naomi Beckwith: No, and I don’t think a lot of black women have come to address that either. I’m not saying she was rejected wholesale by the black community, which the male director of the museum, of the Studio Museum at the time. But again her, and Faith, and all these other women living downtown, black women living downtown, were still friends. And Betye Saar, obviously, who becomes a running buddy against Kara Walker.

Hamza Walker: But it’s funny, when I take away the art side of things and think about black women addressing patriarchy within the civil rights movement, right, that that’s articulated quite clearly. Where wait a minute, this has to be, we’re actually going to have a fight right here on the immediate home front, in order to kind of like level this playing field, the situation right here, right now. As part of like a liberation struggle, you know. Like, what, who, enemies near and far, despite the fact that we’re all working under the auspices of liberation here.

Naomi Beckwith: But it has certain priorities.

Hamza Walker: Certain priorities, right, right, right. But to wonder the extent to which within the arts, and how little acknowledged that position is. But like you’re saying, I think in Free, White and 21, it’s all there. But it just doesn’t assume an order, when it comes out. You know? And that’s not to say that it couldn’t. You know?

Naomi Beckwith: But I would say her work after ‘79 is exactly that. It refuses a kind of order. Which I’m just going to be utopian and say that’s a feminist gesture.

January Arnall: Before we go today, I neglected one very important thing in my introduction, which I just wanted to say to you all, which is that tonight’s conversation which has been so wonderful—is supported, it’s part of a Antje B. and John J. Jelinek Endowed Lecture Series that is made possible through a generous gift to the Chicago Contemporary campaign, and we always want to make sure we mention the people who make these kinds of wonderful conversations possible. So thank you to them, and thank you Naomi and Hamza for being here.

Naomi Beckwith: Thank you, January. [Applause]

[End of Audio]