DAILY PIC: This painting, inspired by a view of protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo, is by my friend Alexi Worth, from his solo show now up at DC Moore Gallery in New York. In the exhibition catalog, Worth says that he was especially intrigued by the strangely shaped scraps of plywood and furniture that Cairenes picked up to use as shields against Mubarak’s thugs. They remind him of the outline of American states on a map, but for me they somehow evoke shaped abstract paintings, in the kind of late-modern, Richard Tuttle mode that Worth himself doesn’t work in. Art has often seemed to have apotropaic powers, and here that’s made literal – but also absurd, given the obvious inadequacy of the protesters’ shields.
The other important component of this painting is the shadows cast by its viewers – us – onto both the surface of the picture and onto the shields depicted on it. Instead of giving us direct access to the thing it shows, here art seems to keep us at one remove, reminding us always that we’re safely ensconced in a gallery, safely looking at art, rather than facing a brutal regime thousands of miles away. “I tried to make a painting of my simultaneous nearness and distance …. I wanted to do a painting where we would belatedly recognize ourselves,” says Worth in his catalog.
David Foster Wallace was like, Art must be sincere! We must use every tool in the linguistic toolbox to cut through sentiment and dishonest cliche and build fresh ways to reveal the power and reality of unironized emotion.
And Mister Rogers was like, Basically the same thing, but without any shame or pretense or fear of sincerity.
There is no African, myself included, who does not appreciate the help of the wider world, but we do question whether aid is genuine or given in the spirit of affirming one’s cultural superiority. My mood is dampened every time I attend a benefit whose host runs through a litany of African disasters before presenting a (usually) wealthy, white person, who often proceeds to list the things he or she has done for the poor, starving Africans. Every time a well-meaning college student speaks of villagers dancing because they were so grateful for her help, I cringe. Every time a Hollywood director shoots a film about Africa that features a Western protagonist, I shake my head — because Africans, real people though we may be, are used as props in the West’s fantasy of itself. And not only do such depictions tend to ignore the West’s prominent role in creating many of the unfortunate situations on the continent, they also ignore the incredible work Africans have done and continue to do to fix those problems.
Yes, Yes a thousand times Yes.