Artist Mark Steven Greenfield gives the viewer a jolting reminder of Jim Crow-era stereotypes and racism in his new show centered on the image of the historical blackface minstrel.
Incognegro opens with a reception at 5 p.m. Saturday, September 29th, at the 18th Street Arts Center, 1639 18th St., Santa Monica. Admission is free.
The exhibit remains on display through Friday, November 30th, and runs concurrently with Guatemalan Forced Migration, a photo essay by Manuel Gil showing images of Guatemalan forced migrants living in Mexico.
Greenfield’s choice of blackface as subject matter, a historical taboo now commonly viewed in repulsion, combined with Greenfield’s potency and skill as a visual artist, make for a dichotomy in that the images can appear at the same time both alluring and ugly, says show curator Julie Joyce.
“What may initially attract the viewer to [Greenfield’s] piece is its bright flush and shape, which, as an impersonation of the diamond suit in card games, provides an invitation to chance,” says show curator Julie Joyce. “What most certainly repels the viewer is the portrait image that occupies this piece, which shocks by its very nature, as images of white folk in blackface makeup tend to do.”
Greenfield started using blackface imagery symbolically in his work in 2000, at a time when debate among African Americans and others about the use of negative stereotypes in perpetuating prejudice was raging, says Joyce.
Just as Pop art, political art, feminist art and performance art has historically tackled sociopolitical issues, Greenfield seeks to provoke critical discourse about his work, says Joyce.
“This work, as it explores the depths of the areas between black and white, the back and forth, the humor and the horror, in the hub of the wheelin’ and turnin’, not only reminds us of the injustices of the past, but that this history, like it or not, is ours,” writes Joyce.
Greenfield was born in Los Angeles, the son of Tuskegee Airman Russell Greenfield. He spent his early years traveling and living on military bases in a number of countries, including Taiwan and Germany, and says the art, culture and history he saw at this young age influences him to this day.
He studied under Charles White and John Riddle at Otis Art Institute (now Otis College of Art and Design) and eventually received his MFA from California State University, Los Angeles in 1987.
From 1993 to 2002, he was director of the Watts Tower Arts Center. In his capacity as an administrator for the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, he curated exhibitions and helped produce the Annual Watts Towers Jazz Festival and Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival.
In 1998, he served as the head of the US delegation to the World Cup Cultural Festival in Paris. In 2002, he was part of the Getty Visiting Scholars program.
In addition to still being active as an exhibiting visual artist, Greenfield teaches drawing, design and art history at Los Angeles City College.
He has served on the boards of the Downtown Arts Development Association, the Korean American Museum and was past president of the Los Angeles Art Association. Currently, he is director of the LA Municipal Art Gallery for Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department.
Information, (310) 453-3711.