As part of our focus on Moving Image + Art, leading up to our Delve event on March 17, we invited our guest speakers to write a blog post on their interest in the topic. Today, we're sharing Ariel Jackson's words with lots of supporting videos. Enjoy!
My generation has embraced America’s idea of individualism. We grew up believing in the “American Dream” of being an individual, but at the same time we still look to connect to the world in some way whether that be politics, social media, or popular media. We tend to connect to the politics that present themselves in popular media through social political paradigms we’ve grown up in.
The need for individuality in my generation resides in the need to escape a historical narrative in order to see the world in our own way. Video-making and the use of social media provides a way for us to easily express our own narratives via capturing footage, creating footage, and posting how we experience, envision and understand in the world around us. When creating my artwork of characters and narratives, I embrace the saying that nothing you discover is new. It is a re-discovery for yourself but common knowledge to the rest of the world. So then, what could I bring to the table that’s new? My answer is to bring myself. No one knows me but they know the topic that affects me as a black woman in the 21st century, dealing with limiting and 2-dimensional paradigms that have been regurgitated since the introduction of black women to the United States.
Confuserella is one of my characters whose narrative I use to talk about politics and history with the aid of popular and historical media.
Melissa Harris-Perry, an American writer and professor, wrote a book called Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America. In Sister Citizen Harris-Perry introduces us to her theory “The Crooked Room”. This theory states that the negative stereotypes that black women deal with can be described as a crooked room where black women find themselves when confronted with the re-introduction of historical stereotypes in the media. They react by either recognizing the room is crooked and stand upright or accommodate themselves to the crookedness of the room by distorting themselves.
Through history we have seen forms of resistance or standing upright via movements involving black women. In the early 20th century, black women resisted the Jezebel stereotype by leading a movement of temperance, modesty, and respectability. Black women domestic workers resisted the Mammy stereotype by living outside their employers’ homes, protesting unfair labor conditions, and nurturing their own families and communities. During the Civil Rights Movement, black women resisted the sapphire stereotype by helping change the country, not through angry violence, but through disciplined endurance of racist counter attacks against against their nonviolent struggle.
To what point have these movements been successful in relation to the negative stereotypes in today’s media? They have been successful in black communities when self-education is active, but on a whole, these moments of resistance have not been able to chip away at the prevalent use of stereotypes in our media today. So what’s a form of resistance that takes a direct aim at media as opposed to the politics that the media uses for it’s own means of rates advancement?
In regards to my artwork I have decided to do both the bending in lieu of standing upright within the crooked room by producing my own media. The Jezebel, Mammy and sapphire amongst other stereotypes exist in a media that does not involve black women in the positive decision making of representation. In essence I have no control over this stereotype. Someone else has created this stereotype and is therefore asking me to participate in this stereotype in exchange for money. So when I participate I am a servant to this concept of who I am.
An example of resistance against this system exchange for financial servitude is the show “In Living Color”. The level of self-awareness in the usage of stereotypes in “In Living Color” aids the debunking of stereotypes through humor and outrageous acting. The producers of the show, the Wayan brothers and sister, took control of these stereotypes to serve their humorous intentions. When I’m doing these characters I have to ask myself “Am I coonin’?” and I think to myself “Am I coonin’ to someone else’s benefit? Or am I blowing it out the water by making it so outrageous under my own power therefore I’m taking claim over these stereotypes and saying “SEE!? This is NOT real” It’s funny but it’s not real. I’m making fun of the distortion while standing upright in this crooked room. In my work I create extensions of myself to emphasize the distortion which is the power of media. This is me and this is me and this is me and therefore all of it’s me and at the same time none of it is me.
Ariel Jackson was born in Monroe, Louisiana and raised between New Orleans, LA and Mamou, LA. In 2009 she was selected as an artist to look out for in New Orleans Magazine's "Who's Who". She earned a B.F.A. at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in 2013. During her time at The Cooper Union she received The Robert Breer Film Award for Excellence in Film, Video and Animation and The Benjamin Menschel Fellowship Award for Documentary. She is currently participating in the Artist In the Marketplace program at the Bronx Museum.