Paired with Caron Tabb’s current exhibition, “Humanity Is Not a Spectator Sport“, a selected series of readings seek to align messages and ideas formed in Tabb’s show with concepts and works of others in the real world.
In “Humanity is Not a Spectator Sport”, Tabb unflinchingly invites the viewer to both experience her own struggles with race, racism, and white privilege while also providing tools for others to take a similar look into their own lives. While never seeking to preach, Tabb instead extends an invitation to engage. She allows the viewer glimpses of the innate goodness we all have inside of ourselves through portraits of courageous women and her own introspection. She endeavors to reveal our common bonds while breaking down the artificial barriers we create so easily.
Through a list of readings, Tabb hopes to expand the topics of these difficult conversations being formed in the gallery and exhibition and explore them within our own lives and introspective worlds. As such, the fourth reading provides a close, personal account of what it means to be black in America, from the larger life-long implications to the more minute details of daily living.
About the selected reading:
Damon Young is the cofounder and editor-in-chief of VerySmartBrothas.com and now one of the most read authors within the topics of race, culture, and work in America today. In his comedic yet exposing memoir entitled “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker”, Young unveils what being black in America really entails. In his detailed layout, he reveals the underlying, ceaseless struggles and pressures of living in a society shaped to work against you and your group of people. Young explains that being black in America is to “…exist in a ceaseless state of absurdity; a perpetual surreality that twists and contorts and transmutates equilibrium and homeostasis the way an extended stay in space alters human DNA.”
Throughout Young’s memoir, the reader gains a fuller look at not only the larger existential differences caused by systemic racism and social inequality, but also the more incessant, otherwise overlooked quandaries that arise for blacks living in America on a daily basis. Young also explores how these realities have shaped his own psyche and experience of growing older, from looking more deeply into the roots of his deeply-embedded self-doubt to his recognized lingering need to showcase hypermasculinity. Through 16 separate essays in one book, Young pulls the reader into his life, revealing his deepest vulnerability, honest thoughts and reactions, and controversial yet undeniable beliefs – one such belief being that his mother would still be alive today if her white doctors had not brushed aside her reports of pain, an issue connected to the continued historical belief that black people do not experience pain or sickness in the same ways that whites do.
Audiences have commented on the fact that Young’s work is not easy to read; it is raw, unfiltered, sometimes angry and “in-your-face”, and – the worst part – it is all true. He provides strong statistics, documented history, multiple accounts, and hard-hitting personal experience. Young’s work is certainly not an easy read, but a necessary read. It is the bareness of it all with which Young presents his own life and the naked reality of black life in this country which makes his collection of essays so crucial to the discussion of race in America. Not only does Young command our attention to these often difficult topics, but he manages to draw us into his thoughts as if he were a friend simply telling a story, mobilizing his expert use of well-timed and relatable humor along the way. It is the boldness of Young’s sometimes un-carefully chosen words which make this memoir so pertinent to our continued discussion of humanity.
In the same way that Caron Tabb with her show “Humanity Is Not A Spectator Sport” invites viewers to opt in, Damon Young’s written work demands that we re-examine the position we’re currently playing.
About the artwork:
Caron Tabb’s piece, titled “Dismantling My Own Monuments”, rests on the floor just near the foot of the steps entering Beacon Gallery. Featuring what appears to be two institution-looking white pedestals with peeled paint flanked by a cylindrical column covered in black tape, buds of cotton, large, protruding nails and wire, and a life-sized human torso painted a single, solid shade (that of a typical band-aid), the objects look as if they have at some point in time taken a rough tumble to the ground. Each element of the whole sits toppled over the next, indicating a sense of brokenness – or, as the name indicates, the aftermath of a profound ‘dismantling’.
The empty torso is a cast modeled from Tabb’s own body. As visitors of the gallery step into her current show, they are greeted by objects of her life, both boldly resonant and decidedly exposed for all to see. In an effort to get others to reflect on their own lives, monuments, and thoughts on our worlds, Tabb bears the bare details of her own. By revealing the truths of her own existence, both good and bad, she provides a well-intentioned invite for viewers to do the same.
While Tabb’s monuments lie open to the judgment of anyone who wishes to take a look, visitors of the gallery first make their own conclusions for the meaning behind these monuments. However, by simply scanning a QR code hung on the wall just opposite the pieces, the artist lays out fully the messages and intentions behind her work for anyone willing to lend a moment of time.
Here, Tabb says of this work:
“A number of years ago I was introduced to the conceptual artwork of the American artist Senga Nengudi. I recall reading that in the 1970s she struggled to find a pair of women’s nylons that matched the color of her dark brown skin. Ballerinas have struggled for decades with a similar issue, often having to apply makeup to pointe shoes to ensure they matched any tone darker than a peachy white.
For more than a year now I have been making spot checks in different pharmacies to see what bandages are available in the first aid aisles. And while it’s all well and good to find Star Wars and Paw Patrol Band-Aids, it’s even better to find them in a range of skin tones. The scarcity of varied skin tone bandages in my searches in pharmacies around the country only emphasizes this point. The paucity of the range of bandages on offer may seem small and insignificant, but they are representative of a much larger issue regarding assumptions of representation. How is a Black child supposed to feel when almost all the bandages in any pharmacy aisle are closer to a Caucasian skin tone than their own? What does it mean when there’s no representation of what you look like in the world? When you rarely see yourself reflected back, what message does it send?
As we in America continue the process of pulling down Confederate monuments, its also important to look at the smaller signifiers that suggest what the monument may mean to one race or religious affiliation. In Dismantling My Own Monuments the toppled bust is modeled directly from my own body, using band-aids painted a color matched to my skin tone. It rests on the ground and represents my need to embody the personal work of toppling the inherent biases I have been carrying. Hopefully as we all start seeing more options in how we cover our surface wounds, we will be able to (slowly) start the process of evaluating bias and healing from deeper hurts as well.”
As this piece is one of such a personal nature, we will allow the artist’s statement on its own lead readers’ thoughts, reflections, and conclusions on the meanings and purposes of this work in particular. That being said, below are just a few questions for consideration in connecting themes from both Damon Young’s collections and Caron Tabb’s artwork.
What monuments represent not only my life, but the roots of my family’s history and culture?
What meaning do my monuments bring to my own life? Do I want to dismantle them?
Which systems of belief – political, institutional, and social – affect me, directly or indirectly?
Do I recognize any ways in which my identified race has shaped the way I act or hold myself?
Are there expectations that society has for me, either culturally or socially, which I don’t fulfill?
Look for copies of Damon Young’s “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir In Essays” at your local library or bookstore. E-reader and audio versions are also available online.
Caron Tabb’s “Humanity Is Not A Spectator Sport” is on view now through mid January, 2022. We hope you will come visit if you are able. The exhibition’s catalogue, which includes photos, background, and personal artist statements for each piece is also available for purchase on our gallery’s website here.
For more information or to contact the gallery directly, please direct all inquiries to email@example.com
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