What Black Is This?
An artist’s series asks us to consider the color and the culture
The Instagram post started with a question.
“What black is this you say?”
“‘Apparently even Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s Lives Matter now’–black’”
The inquiry, and the answers, became part of an art installation that celebrates Black culture and identity while also highlighting the moments of 2020 that America will not soon forget. Chicago-based artist Amanda Williams kicked off the multiplatform series in June 2020, not long after George Floyd’s death. She would post an inky image; sometimes with form, sometimes without, and then type in her ask. The answer always merged color with culture.
The response on June 22, 2020, was this: “‘Your love of bird watching could have caused your death that day. Your Harvard degree does not insure your safety’ — black.” September 24 answered in this way: “‘You wish you could see the black on the inside of Stevie Wonder’s eyelids so you too could have inner visions’ — black.” There is this one: “‘You once told me you wanted to live somewhere there are more than 4 or 5 ways to be black’ black.”
Williams, known for color-saturated installations that take their cues from Black culture, recently brought her digital images to oil canvas, where they are on display at the city’s Rhona Hoffman Gallery. The idea percolated as the nation reeled from the visuals of George Floyd’s murder. On Blackout Tuesday, which happened in June, Williams pondered social media protest and the request to “black out” communications. She then took the idea further to pair her color work with a cultural acknowledgment.
As Williams says in her YouTube video on the exhibit:
This is a completely consistent throughline to the way I look at the world all the time. I’m always thinking about color in relation to race and chroma. I’m always imagining how to get other people to shake their understanding or their assumptions or their reductions of Blackness…