A series of poignant short films, commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery, have been released portraying artist responses to the renowned Van Dyck’s “self portrait” from 1640.
The first in the series, features Mercury-Prize winning band Young Fathers, with a message that will definitely spark an introspective look at yourself. Accompanied by performance art, the short film personifies a black man’s fight. A fight to be recognised, established or heard. A Black man who can’t identify with the wealth, the white faces and culture of the artwork on display. The artist wrestles his emotions in darkness, surrounded by an exhibition called Looking Good: The Male Gaze. Ironic…there is not a single black person on display.
Who are we, if we can’t relate to inherited wealth, status and riches. If our image, our frame, our stature doesn’t fit the portrait? If we don’t qualify for white privilege? We don’t look like the dandies of the 18th century. What do we do when only white success is being promoted? When the gaze we are looking through is a white one?
These questions are all too relatable in the black community. Questions that can easily raise frustration or passion.
As the film ends, the narrator simply says “and I’m gone” as the artist walks out…like a realisation. It sort of reminds me that these discouraging thoughts and questions do pass. And they allow for solution-building ones. Who is to say we are not heirs of black privilege and wealth? Isn’t there such thing as black excellence? African Art and sculptures? Ghana’s gold? Jamaica’s fruitfulness? Can’t these be drawn too? Can’t Olympic gold medals be hanged?
Self-portraits are just that. Self-portraits. Let’s start portrait-ing or portraying ourselves in the best way possible. As conduits of culture, music and creativity. Vessels that possess strength, richness and appreciate in value. And as we appreciate in value, our art does too.
“Random White Dudes” by Young Fathers was removed from the National Gallery website and YouTube and has now been reinstated with the following statement;
Since its release, the piece had since received a slew of hateful responses & backlash from online trolls. Awful. The official statement suggests the video was removed “at the request of Young Fathers”. But was this really a voluntary decision by the band? Surely, the hate tweets and comments that ensued had a role to play.
It goes to show that some who identify with the accepted idea of white privilege, aren’t ready to accept any alternatives. And believe it or not, there are alternatives…Charlemagne Tha God recently released “Black Privilege” a book that has been on the New York Times Bestseller List for 8+ weeks. I read a quote recently which said “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”. Ironic right? When the ‘privileged’ start to see through the ‘oppressed male gaze’, even just for 4 mins, it’s unbearable.
It’s up to us to unapologetically raise and fix our gaze on our own high standard of culture.