Historically and currently African American women use art as a way to express themselves, their emotions and as an act of resistance. In this paper, I will discuss the various ways two very influential artists, Laurie Cooper and Lorna Simpson, use imagery to uncover and forefront the various forms of oppression that affect their lives as African American women. Since the late 1970s, African American art, as a form of self expression, explores issues which concern African peoples worldwide. During this time period, African American artists use symbols which represent the struggles, despair, hopes and dreams of a people striving to debunk prominent stereotypes and dismantle the intersecting oppressions of race, class and gender.
Despite the long history of African American art, many black artists in contemporary society still have a difficult time getting their art viewed or accepted by the masses. Society, in general, tends to look at African art as ethnic, trivial, simple, folk art, perhaps even collectable, but not worthy of true in-depth exploration of fine art accreditation. However, Laurie Cooper and Lorna Simpson disrupt these perceptions in their art.
Lorna Simpson, a photographer, was born in New York during the sixties. Still residing there today, she remains active in the art world. Simpson brings much attention to a cause near and dear to her, the “situation of black women in society.” The ambiguity in her photographs allows the viewer to evaluate the meaning of her work and to draw their own conclusion with her spirit in mind. An excellent example of this is in her piece Counting(1991). The Albright-Knox Art Gallery helps interpret the piece:
Lorna Simpson’s work, Counting, contains three images: a fragment of a woman’s body, a small brick hut, and a group of braids. The figure is anonymous and wears a white shift, Simpson’s preferred costume for her models. She likes the simplicity; she believes that it indicates what she terms "femaleness," without bringing up issues of fashion; and she also likes the fact that there are many possible interpretations for such an outfit. The times to the right of the figure might indicate work shifts, but the schedules are unrealistic if considered closely. Other possibilities for what they might mean are open to viewer interpretation.
The central image shows a smoke house in Sout...
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...e, the work is not answer oriented. It’s intentionally left open-ended. There’s not a resolution that just solves everything.
This statement leaves the viewer free to form their own conclusion and remain open to various interpretations. Lorna Simpson and Laurie Cooper help to change the world for the better by addressing confrontational, silenced issues by opening the eyes of the world to all of the “isms” that plague society and gives us hope for the future.
Both women subvert traditional imagery, physically and psychologically in prominent historic and current representations of African American’s historically and currently in American society. This subversion allows their artwork to escape the marginalization of African American art as seemingly “ethnic folk art” and exposes their works as tools for social progression.
4. Jorge Arango. “At Home with Lorna Simpson.” Essence Magazine, 2002, p.172
5. Audre Lorde. “Beyond the Margins” Words of Fire, The New Press, 1995, p.287
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