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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.

2016-05-14 04.42.13

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

My country ’tis of thee…

May 4, 2016

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.

OriginsOfAmerica
Part of the performance took place in the most prominent collection of the institution, America’s Presidents. The Gallery boasts that it holds the only complete collection of U.S. presidential portraits outside of the White House. When a visitor walks into the gallery, they are immediately greeted by an image of George Washington, the nation’s first President. He appears on a Revolutionary War battlefield, standing mightily and dressed as the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. Part of the wall text next to the portrait reads:

“Essential to the projection of Washington’s authority was the work of artists… from iconic oil paintings to drawings, etchings, and woodcuts that could be widely disseminated to the public. Through these images, Washington was not only celebrated by the American people but his authority as a military and political leader was recognized and reinforced. Image-making played an essential role in legitimizing the new U.S. government and its constitution.”

All the pantings in the presidential portraits section show singular and mythic white male figures portrayed with great reverence. Paintings of early U.S. Presidents grew out of styles of royal portraiture of Europe, where kings were envisioned as directly connected to God through images emanating an aura of sacredness. The aura coming from the American images is rooted in the founding ideals of liberty, democracy, and freedom. Depicting the body of the leader in portraiture was crucial to creating national identity in both contexts, but the paintings in the U.S. enlisted established styles to imagine the leader to embody “the people.”

In the image above, made by Professor Nikki Greene during the performance on May 14th, many black figures surround the space in front of the Washington portrait. Some are dressed in all white and hold up a colorful canopy that re-frames the portrait with imagery meant to recognize and honor forgotten ancestors. These ancestors were also key figures in the origin story of the nation, but are not usually seen in this space. The performers in white were joined by others dressed in all black, seen in the images above and below. Minutes before, the figures in black had fallen to the ground in the Great Hall, as if dying. A woman dressed in white lined their bodies with white sugar, the way police do with chalk at murder scenes. In response to a call from Campos-Pons, the black bodies on the ground spoke the names of people who have died violent and unjust deaths in the past several years – Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, and many more. The ensemble then came alive, stood up, and the sugar outlines washed away with water. Then, the performers in black and white all processed up the stairs of the museum and placed their bodies in front of this painting of the first U.S. President.

2016-05-14 04.36.29.jpg

The performance urged the viewer to see the stories of black Americans as a part of the story of America. As the wall text for the Washington portrait makes clear, seeing figures as powerful in images is essential to actually being powerful. In that fleeting moment, Campos-Pons and her ensemble of black artists made an interjection into the American imaginary. They made visible the presence of countless black figures surrounding the space and time around America’s Presidents.

This is the first of a two-part essay. Read part two here.

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ABOUT THE ARTISTS

 

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

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Goodbye to yesterday…

April 4, 2016

In January of 2010, LetterToObama featured a portrait-in-progress of the 44th President by Micaela Anaya. The painting showed Obama’s face with words written in the space behing his ears and continuing down toward his shoulders. These words were drawn from things written about Obama during the 2008 campaign.

This 4/4/16, LetterToObama returns to this portrait in a more finished form. At the top left corner, it begins to read, “Barack Hussein Obama II born August 4, 1961 is the 44th…” In contrast to the earlier version, the space around his head is now filled in with many words, and shaded in reds and blues.

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PORTRAIT OF A MAN

MICAELA ANAYA

photo (3)

Micaela Anaya, 2009

 

ABOUT THE ARTIST

MICAELA ANAYA: I believe in art as resistance and healing. Our world is in a transitional moment of learning what must be let go in order for us to survive. Audre Lorde said Poetry is not a Luxury, those words have power. Under this world order every piece of us- our earth, art, dreams, the very nature of our being is rendered a luxury, something we can’t afford. This movement of making has let me know otherwise, that we are creators and everything that man has made can be unmade. While the serpent of greed and need occupies our mind it will still have to war against the spirit that speaks from our hearts.

Visit the January 2010 post featuring the earlier version of Anaya’s Obama portrait.

http://www.rawartists.org/micaelaanaya

https://micaelaanaya.carbonmade.com
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Creative Commons License
For the 44th on April 4, 2016 by M. Liz Andrews, Micaela Anaya 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.

Circles, circles, round and round…

March 4, 2016

This is a love letter to black people.

M. Liz Andrews

Video by Quayla Allen

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Creative Commons License
For the 44th on March 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.

It’s more to feed your mind…

February 4, 2016

The moment of the 2008 Obama campaign brought about new and innovative uses of images by campaigns, candidates, voters, and artists. Images of Obama were key to the ways viewers related to the candidate. With their 2009 portrait made from pieces of cereal, Hank Willis Thomas and Ryan Alexiev posed the question, “Is Barack Obama a modern messiah in the world of politics or marketing?”

 

HANK WILLIS THOMAS and RYAN ALEXIEV

BREAKFAST OF CHAMPION

Breakfast of Champion 2009

http://www.hankwillisthomas.com/
Creative Commons License
For the 44th on February 4, 2016 by M. Liz Andrews, Hank Willis Thomas, Ryan Alexiev is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-

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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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