Intersectionality, a deconstructionist critical theory that attempts to identify how different aspects of political and social discrimination overlap and impact marginalized members of our society, is a term that was coined by black feminist scholar, Kimberle’ Williams Crenshaw in 1989. It includes various forms of social stratification, such as class, race, sexual orientation, age, religion, disability, and gender. Is intersectionality impactful in contemporary art and if so, how does it show itself?
In a recent art exhibit that I curated at the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati Women’s Art Gallery, a video was produced to express the exhibiting artist’s point of view on the topic of Womanism and how to bridge the gap between white women and women of color. One of the participants,Tina Gutierrez, adjunct professor at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and underwater, dance and portraiture artist admonished fellow creators to “be more inclusive with their artwork” after suggesting that in the history of western art although people of color existed and populated society at many levels, they were not seen in the early renaissance or early baroque artwork. The question she posed was “Why not?”
From a purposeful perspective, national museum exhibited visual artist, Jimi Jones, sees intersectionality as “another way of becoming more human by identifying a set number of items that artists can pick from to express themselves.” In a perfectly prophetic mode, he painted “Crossing the Delaware” prior to the election of the first African American President of the US in 2008. He chose Sarah Palin, Glen Beck, along with a Daughter of the American Revolution to address the challenge of racism, and elitism on a background of Washington crossing the Delaware to express hope and courage, both needed to overcome the challenges Obama would face to become an American President.
If a viewer explores art that presents a concept previously unknown to them, they will be more likely to consider its relevance to their world in order to identify its role, or not, its enjoyment, or not, and in some cases, their belief system, or not. Intersectionality provides that process for deconstructing influences, therefore creating the possibility of change. Artists who recognize intersectionality as their focus are interested in the way that different types of discrimination can converge and impact individuals and groups, and their work does indeed explore these complex interactions.
In her photographic portraits of LGBT youth, South African photographer Zanele Muholi creates positive images of black queer identity. The South African photographer places herself center stage, drawing on the experiences of homophobia and hate crimes that impact her own community.
Exploring the intersection of non-Western subjects and gender, Yasumasa Morumura, a Japanese conceptual photographer, inserts himself into recreations of iconic works from the history of Western art.
On a similar note, drawn to the idea of “creating artwork with meaning.” Chicago-native visual artist, Harmonia Rosales, recently started a serious social conversation with just the stroke of her brush when she re-imagined “The Creation of Adam” featuring God as a Black woman and called it “The Creation of God”. Harmonia says that her exhibits are intended to clear “the blockage created by the “Masters” depicting a White heaven and the subordinated woman which “block our path to the truth” by deconstructing the dominant social narrative through the same medium that helped create it.”
A foundational precept of creativity is change. Tightly held customary standards ultimately inhibit change in an attempt to provide a foregone conclusion and control of the medium. It is my belief that awareness of the intersectional strata influencing art and culture, the removal of those potential limitations, coinciding with the courage to bypass fear that change represents, will culminate in artistic endeavors that are forever fresh, concepts that were previously unexplored and eventually, effective artistic growth.
Ena M. Nearon
President, Ten Talents Network