I was a little perturbed after Tuesday’s discussion about the Voice’s of the World’s Video Version of Ben Hamburger‘s thesis. There seemed to be an agenda to bash this alumnus by some, while the first year cohort were only given only limited information prior to and thrown in unbeknownst.
If I was to do pedagogy of liberation critique of his work, I saw…
- A juxtaposition of form and metaphor with the use of form stone…being both apart of their homes, but also rubble remnants (like archeology)
- A sensitivity to lift up individuals AND their stories…
- Some exquisite artistic talent via portraiture…
If I read between the lines and to some reverse deducing, I saw…
- That perhaps Ben was not very well liked by the 2nd year cohort…
- That perhaps his work may have actually been more controversial to some Baltimoreans (including our elder cohort)…or at least more than the video portrayed
- That perhaps it wasn’t necessarily the work that was offensive, it was the notoriety he was gaining as an artist – being on NPR and now an international segment, amongst others (seeing his press page).
- I am questioning, was a Skype call into the class not a possibility? I know that he is not geographically in Baltimore, but we were not coming at this curiosity…and I don’t know if he was aware of the discussion.
I don’t know if I am conjecturing here…I don’t know the details of Mr. Hamburger and how effective he was a Community Artist vs. a Portraitist, (I see him as more the latter). Bas there was no artist statement from the artist…all that was shown was a video and a few pages of subsequent supporting materials from the same website.
- As any “outsider” making art in Baltimore – which is ALL OF US in both cohorts, sans Linnea, the only Black Native of Baltimore – couldn’t all of our work be seen as contributing to the gentrification problem?
- Couldn’t all our work be torn to shred for being insensitive or offensive to someone in the Baltimore community in some respect?
As Dominic closed the conversation, he mentioned “Our good intentions are not good enough.” And at first I thought it was a profound closing, but as it percolated through my brain over the passing days that statement as a period punctuation to the “crit” – and I use “crit” for both critical and critique – is paralyzing me from making “community-based” art in the Baltimore community. Because by that sentiment, not matter what my “good intentions” are, they will never be good enough, sensitive enough…as I am
- not a Baltimore native
- I am a non-black outsider
- I could be seen as “fetishizing” the city’s pain
And it worries me that TWO of my cohort members have made recent art pieces…art pieces that were critiqued just the day before…that were made with Baltimore trash or painted to emulate Baltimore trash – their goal to elevate it’s subject and/or metaphor. No deterring critique of being insensitive was brought to either of those students. If this is such a common theme…and so offensive…
- Why are outside Baltimore students even brought into this program (if their work or perspective will only be notarized as such)?
- Should all non-Black students just simply not be accepted into this program?
- Why is there not a caveat laid on how NOT or materials NOT to use in our Baltimore reflective work if this is a hard line for the community at large?
- Are we to be sanctioned in the field of our art?
Is our work also not “worthy” if we are only here in Baltimore for only the length of time of our program…does that mean we don’t care? We don’t always have control of that circumstance – if we get to stay or if we get to go – and it is potentially hurtful and harmful to tell people not to contribute or even try if they are not putting on cement shoes and chaining ourselves to the Howard Street bridge.
If I am out of line and not understanding, I would love to be enlightened. From the little I know, and from what I can tell from his website — he was acting within the program of liberation and anti-gentrification positioning of the MFACA program. He interviewed local people – which I am sure was inspired by the oral history assignment and then folded in portraiture as the Fine Art element to the program….so now I am worried about my work that I have created (and the logo for Glenn Ross based on my interviews with him) and any future work based on that being torn apart because I am “white-passing, non-black, Baltimore Outsider” making an icon of black power – am I culturally appropriating?
I can understand if the 2nd year cohort may have issue with Ben, but wanted to critically discuss the video/work – and if that was the case they should have done so independently in a bar over drinks or in one of their studios or some other more intimate space to them to air their grievances…instead of on the elevated platform of a classroom. But without Ben there…it was just personal beefs or biases based on experiences, and conjecture…through the skewed lens of a quick sound bit video…and it just felt wrong to talk about a man they had personal connection and experiences with – he was not being discussed neither critically nor as an artist.