When asked to do any assignment, the default drive for me is culture. So when prompted to explore the topic of book artist, I “googled” Black Book Artists. The first site I explored was http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2007/09/10/bookartist.Once at the site, I perused the catalogue of names of artists and their representative works. One female artists, Bisa Washington’s piece titled, “In the Event Anyone Disappears,” was an homage to Nelson Mandela chronicling the liberation struggles of Apartheid South Africa , where freedom fighters could come up “missing” permanently or temporarily, having been detained by “law” enforcement officers. Another female artist, Dindga McCannon titled her work “A Week in the Life of a Black Woman Artist.” Each of the books demonstrated the intersection between the work as art and craft. By this I mean the artistic production of the book and the craft of depicting meaning.
In doing this assignment, I fought hard against my usual predilection to highlight a woman artist and chose instead, Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. I became so intrigued with his personal narrative of leaving the corporate white-collar job in the at ATT where he worked as a computer programmer and bought a printing press. He said he got his calling when he was forty years old Having had access to the corporate world, walking away was his liberation
At this point having watched the documentary produced by Laura Zinger, “Proceed and Be Bold” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i251DDffUzY . Please see at least the first 5 minutes. It inspired me to learn more about the trade and the allied industries, concerning the role of printing as a major industry. I have become a cyber-stalker (yes, Meredith, it’s true—all since last Tuesday) and I am versed in all things Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. Even though he refers to himself as a letter-press printer, his art is about remembering the historical atrocities, challenges, and victories of living in/through America’s race-inflected society. He calls himself a person who remembers “race” and the positive aspects of being Black. Please see this short You Tube video about his aesthetic sensibilities.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9NRCcRSLcE another site ishttp://www.printeresting.org/author/admin/
His book art is collected at major libraries and is housed in museums, but most days you can find him in Gordo Alabama “remembering” and making those memories public by creating signature posters and printing material that document what it is to be Black in America.
He doesn’t see himself as an artist, but as a person who proceeds in life to be bold to remember the things from the past that have shaped Black identity. An example of his work that explores memory is a book made in the form of a snake necklace. A book of African Proverbs, each of the pages is cut in the shape of a snake for wisdom and contains a proverb, something to remember. Another of his books is a “Whipping Stick” constructed out of Bible pages. Here he offers a biting critique at the brutality and the oppression created by the imposition.
After earning a MFA in 1997 at the University of Wisconsin, Madison where he studied book design and paper making, he taught graphic design. Because he came of age during the Black Arts Movement, self-determination and power are important to him. One of his posters speaks to the power of controlling information through the press and the creation of books. He says that letter pressing is as important as film as a medium. Although he was trained as a fine printer, he subverts the process as a means of control. He will allow an error to trick up the page in the way a bluesman worries the line while playing the guitar to achieve the soulful quality.
The polemical and political nature of his art attracts me because it aligns to my own concerns about America’s insistence on amnesia. My artist statement, which I am still developing, deals with the transformation of identity from being African to being an American African or African American. I explore what was lost, hidden, recorded and recoded. My first book for this class, “Magic Book” chronicles that artistic trajectory.
Posted by Meredith Purvis on behalf of Koko