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Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights…

December 4, 2016

As we approach the end of Obama’s time in office and brace ourselves for what is next, I want to reflect on the power of the image in presidential elections. In 2008 Obama’s image became a symbol for a movement of people working for a more just and equal democracy. Many of us saw in Obama potential for the nation to live up its promises. Obama became an American icon before he became President.

Sanders may have been the most logical political successor and Clinton may have been the leading candidate of 44th President’s party. But Trump successfully used the power of image. Whether in support or opposition, he garnered attention and became the icon of the campaign. Now, for those of us who believe in justice, it is time to gather together our tools, including the power of the image.

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Barack and Michelle Obama image, Los Angeles, Dec. 4, 2016

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Bernie Sanders coffee shop, Los Angeles, Dec. 4, 2016

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Anti-Trump image, Los Angeles, Dec. 4, 2016

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Clinton and Trump images, Los Angeles, Nov. 5, 2016

They say you gotta let it go…

November 4, 2016

This month, I present a collaborative piece of art that I took part in making. The piece is based on artist Zoe Leonard’s 1992 piece, I want a president, which famously begins, “I want a dyke for president.” Leonard created it in the moment of the 1992 election in the United States as a piece of protest art. I took part in a process of collectively re-writing the piece for the 2016 election with artists, native Washingtonians in DC, and fabulous facilitators all interested in socially-engaged art. I had the privilege of working with Holly Bass and we were excited to be assigned the line where some works have a strike through them. Along with Omolara, we crafted lines we loved.

When I saw the final product – words and phrases of many people woven together to create a winding narrative – I was a little blown by the first line. I  participated in the collaborative process, yet felt the vision of the whole was distant from my own intentions. In the end, it was a thought-provoking experience in arts politics that mirrors the way I understand my position in the 2016 U.S. election.

I must vote. There is no question about that. As someone who has thought about and studied the 2008 election for years, this presidential race is a real problem. As a participant in democracy, I cast my vote with a partial heart.

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Zoe Leonard, I want a dyke for president, 1992

October 4, 2016

SAVE THE DATE

4 Jan. 17  |  4PM

LetterToObama: Live From Washington

A finale event.

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Saying, this is my message to you…

September 4, 2016

This issue of the Fo(u)r 4 features photographs of moments from the 2008 Obama campaign and election in the New York City area by photojournalist Terrence Jennings. The first four images are at a 2007 rally in Washington Square Park and document the style Obama brought to the stage as well as the multicultural supporters there to see him speak. The next four photos are from the New Jersey Izod Center in 2008 and make visible Obama’s iconic likeness, the large crowd, and the political giants who enlisted in the Obama campaign. Finally, Jennings provides a glimpse into the moments before and after Obama was elected 44th President of the United States on 125th Street in Harlem, a center of black history and culture. Taken together, they are a reminder of the Obama ’08 movement.
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PHOTOS OF OBAMA ’08

TERRENCE JENNINGS

Washington Square Park, NYC

GQ Stroll

Barack Obama rallies New York City at Washington Square Park

 

Arch

Barack Obama rallies New York City at Washington Square Park

 

Address

Barack Obama rallies New York City at Washington Square Park

 

Reach Out

Barack Obama rallies New York at Washington Square Park

Izod Center, New Jersey

Presidential Candidate Barack Obama Rally at The Izod Center at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, February 4, 2008

Presidential Candidate Barack Obama Rally at the Izod Center at Meadowlands, New Jersey, February 4, 2008

 

Presidential Candidate Barack Obama Rally at The Izod Center at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, February 4, 2008

Presidential Candidate Barack Obama Rally at the Izod Center at Meadowlands, New Jersey, February 4, 2008

Presidential Candidate Barack Obama Rally at the Izod Center at Meadowlands, New Jersey, February 4, 2008

 

Kennedy Crowd

Senator Edward Kennedy, Senator Barack Obama and daughter of President Kennedy Caroline Kennedy in front of crowd at Obama Rally, New Jersey, February 4, 2008

 

The People at Presidental Candidate Barack Obama Rally at The Izod Center at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, February 4, 2008

People at Obama Rally, Meadowlands, New Jersey, February 4, 2008

Election Night, Harlem, NY

Election night in Harlem on 125th Street, November 4, 2008

Election night in Harlem on 125th Street, November 4, 2008

 

Election night in Harlem on 125th Street, November 4, 2008

Election night in Harlem on 125th Street, November 4, 2008

 

Election night in Harlem on 125th Street, November 4, 2008

Election night in Harlem on 125th Street, November 4, 2008

 

People celebrate on 125th Street in Harlem as Barack Obama is declared U.S. President-elect, making him the first African-American President in the 225-year history of the nation.

People celebrate on 125th Street in Harlem as Barack Obama is declared U.S. President-elect.

 

People celebrate on 125th Street in Harlem as Barack Obama is declared U.S. President-elect, making him the first African-American President in the 225-year history of the nation.

People celebrate on 125th Street in Harlem as Barack Obama is declared U.S. President-elect.

 

Tear

People celebrate on 125th Street in Harlem as Barack Obama is declared U.S. President-elect.

 

Barack Michelle Screen

People celebrate on 125th Street in Harlem as Barack Obama is declared U.S. President-elect.

 

Election night in Harlem on 125th Street, November 4, 2008

People celebrate on 125th Street in Harlem as Barack Obama is declared U.S. President-elect, making him the first African-American President in the 225-year history of the nation.

ABOUT THE ARTIST
Photographer TERRENCE JENNINGS was born on the planet of Brooklyn. He began professionally photographing in 1999 and since, his images have appeared in such publications as People Magazine, The New York Times, Vibe Magazine, Rolling Stone Magazine, Uptown Magazine, Trace Magazine, Hip Hop Weekly, The Source Magazine, Savoy Magazine, BET.com, The London Observer, The Amsterdam News, The Village Voice and several others. In addition, his writings and photographs have appeared in several photo art books by Deborah Willis such as Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present, Black: A Celebration of our Culture, and Obama: The Historic Campaign in Photographs (Deborah Willis and Kevin Merida), A Time Before Crack by Jamel Shabazz, and In Our Own Image by Karen Pughes & Patrick Bass. In 2005, he became a founding Photographer for Nubuzzphoto.com, a digital wire service founded by celebrity photographer Johnny Nunez. Jennings’ media coverage has been syndicated by several international photo agencies and his partial client list includes The Smithsonian African American Musuem of History & Culture, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The National Urban League, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Harper Collins Publishing, Black Smith Music, MOS DEF-Good Tree Media, The Jamel Shabazz Photographic Group, the Root, Common, Dave Chappelle Productions, FilmLife, The Uniworld Group, The HipHop Summit Action Network, The Urban World Film Festival & The Harlem Book Fair/QBR. His Images are currently represented by Polaris Images. He lives to photograph in Brooklyn as a Freelance Photographer with a passport.
http://www.TerrenceJennings.com
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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Water no get enemy…

August 4, 2016

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In this issue of the Fo(u)r 4, LetterToObama features three images by visual artist Aniekan Udofia. Best known for his large and iconic murals seen across Washington, D.C., in 2008 Udofia used his artistic practice to highlight social dynamics he saw coming to the surface during the historic Obama campaign. During Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, Udofia had a solo show featuring original paintings inspired by the election, and the majority of the works in that show sold to people who attended the one-day exhibition. However, there were three images that did not sell – these are those images. While most of the portraits Udofia made about Obama were in celebration, these works contain elements of critique.

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(SELECTION OF UNSOLD WORKS)

ANIEKAN UDOFIA

UdofiaKid

In the first image, a young boy sports a tank top with the stars and bars of the flag for the District of Columbia. He looks up to the the iconic face of Obama and his gaze is skeptical yet somehow hopeful. He holds a hand-written sign and his needs are basic: “Food, Shelter, Clothing.” Udofia compels this viewer, a resident of the nation’s capital, to consider: what does the symbolic victory of Obama’s election mean for children in D.C. who do not have their basic needs met? And, what exists in the literal space between the first black president and the struggling residents of the Washington, D.C., the center of power? For the viewer of this 2008 piece looking in 2016,  the boy’s blackness brings up questions about what Obama’s presidency means for black people at a time when the value of black life is something that is often declared and often violated. I can see why, thinking back to the jubilation surrounding Obama’s election, this was likely a heavy message to receive. This was one of the pieces that did not sell.

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UdofiaObamaFan

This piece didn’t find a buyer either. In it, Udofia centers a grotesque depiction of a painfully white and extremely enthusiastic Obama supporter. Udofia brings to life a caricature of whiteness… as seen through several black gazes. The body of the white figure is exposed in unflattering red and blue clothing. She holds a flag and wears an abundance of Obama paraphernalia in the form of buttons with messages that ask the reader to think about the narrative of racial healing that was hidden at the core of Obama’s election in 2008. Notably, one reads “Obama is half white!” The woman is surrounded by a vibrant yellow that exaggerates her blonde hair and light skin as well as her expression of total enjoyment. The black people surrounding her look up and respond with skepticism, wonder, laughter, and disgust. One young person even documents the absurdity of it all with a smartphone; a new and powerful technology in 2008.

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UdofiaFela

The last piece left behind is this one. This portrait includes a quotation by a man who has himself been referred to as “black president” – Nigerian musician Fela Kuti. The image of Obama in the left bottom corner of the image is rendered in blue and red – putting it in visual conversation with Shepard Fairey’s iconic 2008 red, white and blue “Hope” portrait of Obama. Obama’s gaze looks forward with purpose, embodying the message that sits above his head – the need for a singular and capable government that is “straight and progressive, clean.” If the previous image asks us to think about American whiteness, this image depicts Obama in a iconic and presidential manner through the words of an African icon. It reminds me of the complexity of Obama’s pedigree, and the ways his life, as narrated during the 2008 campaign, was told as a uniquely American tale.

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ABOUT THE ARTIST

UdofiaANIEKAN UDOFIA has achieved local notoriety for his towering murals of Duke Ellington, Fredrick Douglas and George Washington in Washington, D.C. as well as his solo and group live paintings at events in the nation’s capital sponsored by the likes of Red Bull, Heineken, Honda, Current TV, Timberland and Adidas. He garnered national attention with his caricatures and photorealistic illustrations for urban publications XXL, Vibe, Rime, Elemental, DC Pulse, Frank 151 and The Source. He further entrenched himself within the visual vernacular of the hip-hop landscape with designs for urban athletic wear companies And 1 and the D.C.-based Native Tongue.

http://www.aniekanudofia.com

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Creative Commons License
For the 44th on August 4, 2016 by M. Liz Andrews, Aniekan Udofia is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.LetterToObama.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.LetterToObama.com.
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Where I’m going, is knowing where I’m coming from…

July 4, 2016

This is my 7th annual and final 4th of  July LetterToObama… Play the sound file as you scroll down through the images and poem. I also mailed this piece as a photobook to the White House.

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SONNET: 4 JULY 16

M. LIZ ANDREWS

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The dreams from my Papa are compasses, A generation of movements for rights,

The dreams from my Papa are compasses,
A generation of movements for rights,

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He and my mom taught me what justice is… Or could be… if we’d only get it right.

He and my mom taught me what justice is…
Or could be… if we’d only get it right.

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’08- We took power into our hands, Celebrated, a cold day in D.C.

’08- We took power into our hands,
Celebrated, a cold day in D.C.

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Campaign, about so much more than a man, I was there, for so many more than me.

Campaign, about so much more than a man,
I was there, for so many more than me.

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Washington: a White House, Black President. Obama, a vision of our progress.

Washington: a White House, Black President.
Obama, a vision of our progress.

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Buttons, t-shirts, and hats that represent… Politics of change, rather than conquest.

Buttons, t-shirts, and hats that represent…
Politics of change, rather than conquest.

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With heads held high and purpose in our strides, Declared our rights as citizens… and lives.

With heads held high and purpose in our strides,
Declared our rights as citizens… and lives.

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Creative Commons License
For the 44th on July 4, 2016 by M. Liz Andrews is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.LetterToObama.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.LetterToObama.com.
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…Land where my fathers died…

June 4, 2016

This is the second half of a two-part essay. Read part one here.

On May 14, 2016, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. hosted a performance art gathering organized by Cuban artist Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons. The event was part of a series of performance works commissioned by the Gallery to acknowledge the ways race, gender, and class have been determining factors in who has traditionally had access to the making of their portrait. In hosting this performance series, the Portrait Gallery acknowledges that there are many stories and images that are obscured within their collection – one housed at an institution tasked with collecting and displaying images that are national in scale.

After the performers stood in front of the George Washington portrait, the ensemble and audience moved to a prominent painting of President Lincoln. Along with Washington, Abraham Lincoln is one of the most legendary presidents, often remembered for dismantling the formal institution of slavery in the United States with the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment. Although slavery ended in the 1860s, numerous practices and institutions, such as the prison, maintained the national tendency to glorify whiteness and devalue blackness. As the President who is remembered for ending slavery, Lincoln’s legacy is one of helping to move the nation forward in its ever-unfinished progress toward freedom and liberty.

2016-05-14 04.44.04

Lincoln is also an important figure in the history of American portraiture. In addition to being the subject of numerous paintings, Lincoln’s presidency occurred as the technology of photography was just beginning to emerge. Over the course of his time in office, Lincoln became one of the most visible figures in the world, rendered in paintings, photographs, and sculptures, among many other artforms. These images were key to establishing him as an iconic figure who helped the nation move closer to its founding ideals.

In the images above and below, a black woman sits in front of the Lincoln painting and is dressed in costume as the President. The performer, Dell Hamilton, wears her natural hair pulled back, sports a false beard and suit, and a tall hat sits at her feet. Her presence in front of the image is absurd, prompting the viewer to reconsider the assumed whiteness and maleness of the subjects of this and many other famous portraits. This moment of drag performance may also call to mind the numerous black people and women who fought against slavery in different ways than Lincoln – many by stealing themselves away to freedom.

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For some, the story of the United States becoming freer and more equal continues from Emancipation, through the Civil Rights Movement, and culminates in the election of the first black president. During Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign announcement in Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, Obama said that Lincoln “moved a nation and helped free a people.” On the day of his inauguration as the 44th President, Obama took the oath of office with his right hand laid on Lincoln’s bible. In these moments, Obama tied his candidacy to a continuous movement toward equality that Lincoln has come to symbolize. Obama also exists within the visual legacy of President Lincoln, having emerged in another turning point in technology that was characterized by digital images and social media. As with the presidents before him, visual images of Obama have been key to envisioning him as a monumental figure in American history.

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ABOUT THE ARTISTS

 

DELL M. HAMILTON is an artist, writer, activist and curator based in Boston. Born in Spanish Harlem and with ancestral roots in Belize, Honduras and the Caribbean, she spent her formative years in the Bronx borough of New York and was raised in a bilingual as well as a multi-racial family. Her studio practice spans the mediums of performance, installation, drawing, photography, and video within the domains of gender, race, language, history, contemporary art and the African Diaspora. Her work has been shown to a wide variety of audiences in the U.S., France, Italy and Chile. She is currently an artist-in-residence at SubSamsøñ.

http://dellmhamilton.com/

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MARIA MAGDALENA CAMPOS-PONS works with her husband, saxophonist and composer Neil Leonard, to reinsert the black body into historical narratives. Under the name FEFA, they use personal stories, music and procession to evoke both protest and devotion.

http://npg.si.edu/exhibition/identify-performance-art-portraiture-mar%C3%ADa-magdalena-campos-pons

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NIKKI GREEN is Assistant Professor of Art at Wellesley College. She is an art historian examining African and African American identities, music, the body, and feminism in 20th century and contemporary art.

http://www.wellesley.edu/art/faculty/greene

About Nikki A. Greene

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ABOUT IDENTIFY: PERFORMANCE ART AS PORTRAITURE

From the Nation Portrait Gallery:
“Wealth, class, race, and gender determined who could have a portrait made in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The National Portrait Gallery is pulling back the curtain of time to acknowledge those who are missing from the museum’s historical collections. Each artist selected for the inaugural “Identify” series critiques American portraiture and institutional history by making visible a body or bodies that historically have been forgotten, marginalized, or oppressed. Bear witness with us in this experimental initiative.

“The artists selected for “Identify” draw on autobiography and archival resources to consider their personal stories through the lens of historical exclusion. Their inspiration is rooted in voices lost in the museum’s home—the National Historic Landmark building that began as the Patent Office—or in their metaphorical ancestors who are missing from the Portrait Gallery’s collections.”

http://npg.si.edu/exhibit/identify/index.html