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  • Writer's pictureKara Mshinda

Perception, Print Media, and Practice

Much of my artwork is rooted in memories of veneration and dissonance with print media.

Magazines like Ebony, Jet, Essence, and Black Enterprise had a certain sacredness in the single parent, Black middle-class household in which I was raised. Every Saturday, my older siblings and I would conduct our chores in preparation for Sunday afternoons—a time of respite or a time for entertaining guests.

My job was to polish a wooden coffee tabletop and carefully style and organize these magazines for display. It was a job that I did dutifully [because in this context magazines held an important space in our home as artifacts of Black American material culture.

For me, seeing Black people posing with cars, drinking imported liquor, traveling, stylishly protesting, being entrepreneurial, and living carefree represented possible futures for an impressionable youth like myself.

I now recognize that while these publications documented the successes and desires of a Black American Popular culture, they also depicted narratives like colorism, Black bourgeois identity, heterosexuality, cultural assimilation, and respectability politics.

Part of my process, as an artist and visual anthropologist, is to disrupt these narratives and create new ones. I do this by altering images that I encounter. I amend images to give them some mystery and to make viewing them slightly uncomfortable, and a bit weird.

Image: A Long Way, Baby, 2020. Mixed media on canvas, 10x10"

One of my dear friends, Vee, pointed something out to me recently. They said that I "seem to select images where we (the viewer) have the impression [that] the person is looking back at us; in studying your art, something is being asked of us in return."

I hadn't thought of my artwork in those terms but I now understand that the art that I create is like a visual testimony. My hope is to continue to create artwork that inspires questions.

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