Often, the world of advertising and media provide more than enough material for this column. But sometimes I get tired of chasing down all the bad guys because, let’s be honest, little ol’ Indian me (as many of you have so supportively pointed out..) can’t save the world.
This whole re-evaluation got me thinking about these advertisements as art. I mean, art directors design them, right? And art & creativity is involved at all levels of executing a semi-offensive campaign of any kind, right? If it makes it to the airwaves, the magazines or the interwebs, chances are someone along the line thought it could pass, right?
That brought me to this very interesting question: Is it okay for art to be racist? When is something racist and when is it actually purposeful and subversive?
You see, I’m a design-nut and I troll the web’s endless array of design, art & craft blogs. During one of these forays, I came across a rather interesting wall-treatment company who does some very … strange things with wallpaper.
At first glance, this looks like regular wall-paper right? Vintage, a little like grandma’s house, totally innocuous, right?:
Look a little closer, however:
HMMMM. Well, isn’t that clever? Hiding a totally anachronistic image of misrepresented current realities in a wall-scape that, in general, evokes a very antithetical feeling: the comfort & security of grandma’s house. The thing is, this might be acceptable if it were an intelligent commentary on the state of race relations in this country and in this world. But I doubt it. I think it’s really meant to just be a “funny” conversation starter in some random person’s living room.
Just imagine yourself seated around a vintage cherry-wood dining table, nibbling away at your walnut & cranberry salad. A guest notices the hidden image and all of a sudden, you’re all laughing and joking about its irony and hilarity. Somehow, this would just make me weirdly uncomfortable.
Can it pass because it’s “art” and therefore belongs to a category of expression not really open to the type of criticism I apply to advertisements? Am I just crazy for thinking this is a really weird thing to have on your wall? Not to mention the fact that the image represents race in THE most stereotypical and negative way: “big scary Black guy” aiming a gun at a slight, scared white woman. Great.
Maybe if this art was more powerfully subversive the way Kara Walker’s work (see below) is, I’d feel a little more compelled to cut this artist slack:
What do you think?