From Hip Hop to Coal Funk
Ayanah Moor and Phil Robinson
Indianapolis Art Center
Through June 5
Humor in art: You either love it or you hate it. I'm in the former camp: I'm all about humor in service of larger awareness. But when we're talking about gender, racism or cultural stereotypes, using humor to shed light and build awareness is a risky tool. There are those who believe there's nothing funny about these things. But artist Phillip Robinson invites us to take a step back and ... well ... lighten up.
"7 Jungle Bunnies," by Phil Robinson, currently on exhibit at the IAC
From Hip Hop to Coal Funk, on view at the Indianapolis Art Center, offers an open-minded view about race and identity with the dual show of work by Ayanah Moor and Phil Robinson.
Robinson plays on black stereotypes with his "Puff Wheat Goes Phishing" series of life-sized digital prints depicting the artist "fishing" for handbags in various locales, from the Taj Mahal to the Arctic, finally displaying his "catch" with glee in what appears to be a Buddhist temple. So what's the joke? Black men are pickpockets, right? Robinson turns the stereotype on its head; he's fishing from water onto land, and he doesn't want the money (he tosses it out, visibly disgusted, at the Wailing Wall): It's about identity. Who am I? I'll be who you think I am. Or at least I'll look like I am who you think I am. By acquiring your "stuff" then I'm on my way.
While these images are at once ludicrous (in the most delightful way) and sad, the joke is definitely on us: Black identity is as complex as the identity of any racial or social group, and those who don't get it are fools if they rush to make judgments.
Robinson's "Niggy Pop Store" is hilarious. Most of us know enough about black stereotypes to know what Robinson is playing upon with his "merchandise," from Jungle Bunnies to Pimp Pickles to Niggy Banks and Nigwiggles. (The Pimp Pickles are a particular favorite: "gold plated, rhinestone encrusted.")
Ayanah Moor takes a more sanguine approach to examining racial stereotypes and identity.
Moor also invites the viewer to take a look in the mirror, asking such questions as, "Is the desire for wealth by the urban poor - as observed in much of hip-hop music - so different from the American Dream?" Moor's art, life-sized digital prints in this case, also depicting herself, offers a series of images of a woman addressing the viewer by simple gestures: holding up her hand in oath to truth, for instance. Moor does not use humor; instead she implores the viewer by directly addressing "contemporary black cultural expression," as she puts it. "I seek to create works that contribute to, generate and enrich the discourse surrounding visibility, invisibility, code and appropriation." Too few of Moor's works are on view here to generate her imperatives effectively - and while the work is well-complemented by Robinson's, the seriousness is overshadowed by the visual blatancy of Robinson's work.
Regardless, these are important discussions. Racism and identity are not mutually exclusive, and yet identity is a process that stands outside of cultural stereotypes. Moor and Robinson provide ample opportunity for enlightenment on both subjects. And kudos, once again, to the Indianapolis Art Center for presenting art that challenges and provokes.
From Hip Hop to Coal Funk is on view through June 5 at the Indianapolis Art Center, 820 E. 67th St., 244-2464 or www.indplsartcenter.org. The exhibitions are free and open to the public seven days a week.