Begin/Again: Marking Black Memories

Visitor Reflections | Ivan Forde

Mildred Lewis, Professor in Department of English 

This is the dark time, my love,
It is the season of oppression, dark metal, and tears.
It is the festival of guns, the carnival of misery.
Everywhere the faces of men are strained and anxious.
Martin Carter, ‘This Is the Dark Time, My Love”

I wasn’t familiar with the work of Ivan Forde, but when I learned that he is Guyanese American I immediately thought of Martin Carter’s poem, “This is the Dark Time, My Love.” It is one of my favorite poems. Its power is in its unsparing depiction of the struggle for Guyanese independence. Carter refuses to romanticize his subject.

Morning Raid is part of a series inspired by the Epic of Gilgamesh. The Epic is a wild, often violent ride.  There is redemption for Gilgamesh, but it comes at an enormous price. Forde approaches this subject with Carter’s clarity and ferocity. The intensity of the painting’s figures, straining at their task captures the Epic’s cruelty, violence and indifference. No one cares about these men. They are not helping to shape history. They are being used by it. Engaged in a collective effort, yet isolated from one another. That is, too often, a metaphor for what I think are the worst aspects of modern life:  disengagement, loneliness. Faceless, connected only by taut red threads that could so easily be snapped by the bare tree branches, they are reduced to their function.

I admire the work’s play of light, composition and rich textures. It feels abstract and classical. It only seems spare at first. When you look past the limited color palette, there are so many glorious shades of blue. I enjoy getting lost in the canopy of trees.
I’m drawn to this kind of work. It feels like it strips away everything but the truth. It is beautiful and it is brutal and feels very necessary.

Bentley Kandel, Student, HON 210: Monsters and Monstrosities

As I was viewing the online gallery, the artist that impacted me the most was Ivan Forde. Ivan Forde’s piece Morning Raid displayed in the online gallery Begin/Again evokes a sense of strength and community for me. The men in the piece are self-portraits of Forde and I think that shows how each member of a collective or community is one. The struggles of a community become the struggles of the individuals, and I see this represented in Forde’s choice to portray the men working together to take down the large tree. Each man is sacrificing his strength and body to accomplish the collective goal. Forde brings old stories into contemporary life. The Morning Raid piece is a depiction of a story in Epic of Gilgamesh. This link between two times raises issues about the similarities between the contemporary mindset and the past. I think Forde’s work also addresses how problems of the past do not go away and continue to impact the present. I believe art can address problems in society and force people to face these problems. This can inspire people to take action or create discussions about ignored issues in society. We can incorporate “black memories” into our lives by researching events that impact other communities and educating ourselves on the history of memories similar to the one’s the artists in Begin/Again are sharing. I think by educating ourselves the result will be a better discussion between groups of people and recognition of histories that have been ignored by the dominant culture. 

Gabe Braden, Student, HON 210: Monsters and Monstrosities

Ivan Forde's work was the most compelling to me, depicting the oldest work of literature—Epic of Gilgamesh—in an inherently African American form. Forde uses himself to paint the characters, and as an American black male, he was able to connect the ancient world to the current one, bringing the two complexities to be one. I saw years of oppression as the bodies push and pull the strings that were the color of blood. Because of the use of "black figures," it had a much darker feel to it for me at first—one rooted in slavery, oppression, and genocide—instead of the past art that depicts the story and characters as Anglo English. Forde is able to challenge our opinion of the black body in art, and what it means to be a black art piece. As an audience, I have to repel my own racist prejudices to what it means when the traditional white figures are replaced by black figures and how black art should be viewed as a white viewer. I think it's important for art to depict black people to help normalize black art past slavery and oppression in the mainstream audience's viewpoint. Art like Forde's does this and helps incorporated "black memories" into the art world. 

Rose Steele, Student HON 210: Monsters and Monstrosities

Something which struck me as a viewer of this exhibit was the use of art to expand on ideas. Particularly in the way that Ivan Forde and Mark Bradford chose to use their art as a sort of addition to/ continuation of the past by showing it through their own perspective. In this way, I felt that they were able to use their art to fulfill a space which was missing from their experience of the stories of the past. Ivan Forde did this by retelling classic poetry and literature from his own perspective through music and print making whereas Mark Bradford literally projected images from the past on to present day scenery in order to re-enliven both.  As Mark Bradford paraphrased in one of his videos 'you make the work with your life', I feel by viewing their own art as a continuation on history and/or their past work the artists featured in this exhibit are closing a gap in understanding which could not otherwise be done. 

Chloe Stricker, Student, HON 210: Monsters and Monstrosities

In looking through each artist's works in the gallery, I am most captivated by the repeated idea of using art to reclaim a narrative- to rewrite one's story. I noticed this particularly in Ivan Forde's work, where he borrows imagery from other famous works in order to tell his own story. I noticed it again in Rotimi Fani-Kayode's work where he uses a traditionally Western medium to reclaim his space in a world where his story is perpetually told for him, without him. I believe art has the power to shape our perceptions of reality and to force us to think in new ways. This gallery certainly illustrates how various black artists are reclaiming the narrative by using various artistic mediums to imagine their individual places in this world and to tell their stories in their own authentic voices. I think we as individuals can incorporate "black memories" into our lives by seeking out works of art such as books, poems, paintings, drawings, sculptures, movies, plays, etc. where black artists have the chance to illustrate their own realities and dreams. As a bit of an aside, I would argue that one of the most important (and most forgotten) steps of consuming art is paying artists for their labor. While it is very important to diversify the stream of media you consume so as not to fall into the trap of a single story, it is equally as important to compensate the artists whose work you are viewing and learning from. Black people, and particularly black artists in the context of this discussion, are not free learning or anti-racism resources. They are people who deserve to be compensated for their labor which others so freely enjoy. 

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