The Legacy of Resistance

08/03/2009 4:00 AM |

When asked why he thinks the U.S. has such a sizable prison population, Rigo 23 said, “I think there’s a national narrative that’s very much built on winning. So there’s a place to win, and there’s a place to lose, but there’s not a lot of space in between… there’s not much flexibility.”

Rigo 23 (whose real name is Ricardo Gouveia) was born in Madeira, Portugal, in 1966, the year before Douglas was to begin work on The Black Panther. At the New Museum on July 23, Rigo 23 introduced Douglas’s lecture, noting that the former minister of culture was an early influence on his work. He mentioned that he was “touched by the legacy of the history of resistance,” and suggested the reason the Panthers were respected internationally is because they weren’t solely focused on domestic politics–instead, they looked outside their own borders and forged relationships with anti-colonial movements in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

The two other exhibitions currently featured at the New Museum also refer to international politics and resistance to mass culture: David Goldblatt focuses on the legacy of apartheid in South Africa, while Dorothy Iannone engages with female sexuality. The problem with this ambitious grouping is that all four artists represent some form of 1960s radicalism, but they only loosely fit together. The curation seems forced, because it is.

When asked why Douglas’s work was being shown now, Hoptman explained: “Right now is a great time to look back to the history of the struggles that came out of the civil rights era, specifically because of the change in regime in Washington, D.C., of course.”

The “of course,” though, is what is troubling. Are we really able to look back from a distance, now that Barack Obama is President? Is the New Museum just pandering to an audience that wants to be reassured by art that is post-colonial, post-race, and, ultimately, post-guilt?

Douglas said: “The challenges are still the same, but you may have some now who… think that we’ve turned the page, when we haven’t finished the page that we’re on.”

So how can political artists maintain their voice in the age of Obama, in which the President is depicted as Superman on t-shirts and posters worldwide, or as the personification of hope in Shepard Fairey’s work?

Rigo 23 said, “When Obama got elected President he finished his speech by saying, ‘God Bless America.’ And I think as long as United States citizens think that God should bless their country in particular, we’re not going to go anywhere.” He continued, “I think that political artists working in the United States have to see themselves as political artists living on planet Earth first.”