Curating Blackface: Elaine Tam / Full Transcript of Interview

Kle Mens Stępniewska & Elaine Tam /  Kle Mens Stępniewska in Blackface / BWA Zielona Góra 

The following is the full transcript from an in-depth conversation I had with Elaine Tam, the curator of Kle Mens Stępniewska’s blackface exhibition “Blessed in Blackness.” Ascertaining the degree of already present knowledge about the history of blackface as an odious, racist social practice, I concluded from this interview that both the artist, who has a history of racist performance, and the curator, are complicit in normalizing and perpetuating anti-Black racism.

. . .

Tony: “I have some questions that I have written down, I know you’re very busy; so in terms of the work ‘Blessed in Black’ based from what I could read in the small English outline, that is based on the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, right?”

Elaine: “Yes, that’s right.”

Tony: “I wanted to ask about the problematics of blackface. Obviously this was a question that would come up and what is your response to the criticism that might come up around the fact of a white woman painting herself black?”

Elaine: “It’s a really very contentious thing to do we had discussions surrounding this problematic given the history, especially in other places like a festival in Amsterdam and like if you know this golliwog toys in the U.K., but I think specifically where Clementina [Kle Mens] is interrogating, or citing, Blackness, it’s specifically in this religious context, and because of this religious context and therefore like a context a Polish context, I mean it kind of felt like it was not relevant to address directly in the text that was written, but at the same time is obviously unavoidable. But as much as you know like in Asian cultural history women are having this motivation to make themselves up in white; just because it has to do class context, to do with being away from the sun; this like notion of whiteness is also has a different cultural context in Asian for instance, in which people are using make up to somehow kind of like disguise or discuss or open up this kind of conversation about this very notion of whiteness or blackness – but it does not necessarily have to be in a racial context at all.”

Tony: “I was wondering though because of the sort of problematics you were talking about of the golliwog dolls in the U.K. and this history of minstrel acts in the United States the fact that it is a practice that comes out of slavery; this is one of the reasons why I wanted to reach out to you is because I was very, very concerned about the possibility of it being anti-Black in the sense that it’s like an appropriation of some of those nasty pieces; I know it’s culturally relevant to Poland in that it’s the Black Madonna, but here you have a white women using black skin in order to make art. Is this something you would show say at the White Cube or Goldsmiths? Is it something?”

Elaine: “No and that’s the thing about this exhibition that is happening specifically in the Polish context and that is obviously a very important factor or feature of the show even in order for the work to be read because I mean it’s being read in Zielona Góra and interestingly that has its own, you know, kind of climate altogether of how it’s being addressed and that’s the climate in which it’s being read. As for my understanding anyway, previously for Kle Mens’ shows there have been a lot of let’s say a kind of like you know religious fanatics that have been attending the shows and you know considering it blasphemy and usually in the Polish context that is the it is being read and exactly the topics she’s addressing in this particular context and so obviously, cross culturally, those types of nuisances, these very sensitive nuisances, will have different types of meanings abroad and by no means would that show that would have the same type of response in let’s say New York for instance or America.”

Tony: “Or London?”

Elaine: “Or London even, it’s true, it is true. The locale is quite important. The very question of the Black Madonna anyway for my research is really contentious and ambiguous like she herself whether it is she is racially Black or the Blackness is the kind of deoxidisation of the paint that happens because of the lighting and the smoke in the church so this very quality of blackness that the Black Madonna has is itself some type of questionable thing that does not necessarily have to do with race but also has to do with like magic and mysticism and the question of the dis-ownership of the woman as she appears in homes and also disowned by immaculate conception and these types of issues I suppose that have to do with religion have to do with the female body are actually the ones Kle Mens specifically wants to address. At the same time of course, I personally understand the sensitive nature around it, and at the same time nor do I feel like you know perfectly equipped to deal with those types of issues because you know I’m not Black although I’m but super aware of the issues having lived in London and having American roots in some sense, so, hence why there’s a certain level of refrain in the text even though it’s obvious to acknowledged it did seem appropriate to acknowledge it, you know, considering the Spivakian line of thinking for instance, you know, to let the Subaltern speak for itself, and that’s why you might find it excluded, or unaddressed, in the text.”

Tony; “So you are talking about Spivak’s concept of the Subaltern in terms of, sort of, undermining the religious fanaticism through the imagery?”

Elaine: “Yes, yes, also not refraining from speaking on behalf of others which is that the Subaltern is not let speak for itself – this very notion that it does not have a voice of its own, that has not been allowed to speak, or it does not speak for itself, and so that’s why I suppose there is like this refrain of address for this idea of like blackface because we did not want it to necessarily be an object of the show, I guess especially for international audiences, such as yourself, who would have questions about black face; the show really wanted to circumvent this very specific religious like feminism context in Poland and it is super contentious because now with the rise of the right-wing rhetoric and kind of xenophobic Poland, it is a dimension of the address and a tricky one as well.”

Screen Shot 2018-02-12 at 16.06.17
Kle Mens Stępniewska Mimetic Black Madonna of Częstochowa, presented at the “Blessed in Black” exhibition, BWA Zielona Góra Opening Friday 16 2018

Tony: “My point is that do you think that the use of blackface, in the United States or elsewhere, when it gets imported into Poland, does it somehow lose its racist content?”

Elaine: “It’s so difficult to say I mean I think when blackface is imported into Poland it only loses its racist content if it identified with something that’s almost like it is pre-Black face; for instance the Black Madonna features in so many household and it’s going unquestioned; so that reference kind of predates blackface if you will and so why that is the focus of the context like a social-historical context that’s spanning from a long time past.”

Tony: “I definitely agree [with context], but I am talking about more of the contemporary interpretation around it; because when we have a situation where Black people are very much oppressed throughout the world and my concern is you are very well aware that this wouldn’t fly even across the border in Germany. I know it is connected to the Black Madonna of Częstochowa and she may or may not be Black, although the artist states she’s a ‘Black Jewish Girl.’ In the context of a white person painting themselves black today, I guess my readers would be concerned because I have a lot of readers in the United States and the U.K., and Africa as well and India. What about a white woman yet again appropriating a Black body? That’s the direct question I want to put to you.”

Elaine: “I mean does Blackness always have to like denote the Black body and obviously that is the inference with the painting, with the painting black, but like for instance there’s lots of different types of locale cultural appropriation and obviously a lot of it in a some certain context are extremely like pained histories that you know should not be unspoken and go unaddressed but obviously when it is addressed should be addressed sensitively and should work be operating in that type of terrain it should obviously be treated with utmost respect and be accountable for what it is doing in that sense but I would not say black as a colour specifically always is denoting race and always relegates it to that type of debate.”

Tony: “I agree with you I mean I love Ad Reinhardt’s you know great abstract pieces of different gradations of black. I think my concern is more around the use of a white woman putting the black on the face and the skin in order to have that kind of racialized – obviously black in itself is not racialized entirely – but when it’s used by a white woman is; I mean I’m trying to wrap my head around it I suppose.”

Elaine: “Yes. And I completely understand the kind of like, you know, contention with it, and concerns around it, but I guess for Kle Mens, who is a painter, it’s like the treatment of the body as a canvas, she like molds her body for her work; she like embodies the canvas in what she is doing as I describe in the text extremely performative act and that performance that I mentioned of it is quite important giving her personal like religious backdrop against which she is always simultaneously challenging and qualifying herself which is why this is always the kind of more I guess personal autobiographical mode of address from where she is coming and by no means does she identify with it in terms of coming from a racist background, not at all, but more like this very act of like embodying the self and the possibility for the changing representations and so it’s this treatment of the body as a canvas which echoes the painting work that she does where in, a Polish context, is very much consider in lots of senses religious blasphemy and there have been incidents of protesters on the door of the exhibition that are challenging her but specifically in this religious context and so when she’s adopting the Black Madonna it’s like more religious blasphemy than adopting the iconography rather than the racialized skin colour. It was going to be a very, very like ambiguous line to tread, like a very, very troubling one that was possibly going to bring about a lot of critical reception but it’s interesting how that reception of it differs obviously from an outside audience or let’s say a Western Europe audience versus the audience that the locale, that is in the locale of the exhibition, for instance.”

Tony: “So there seeing it as religious blasphemy basically because she’s kind of undermining this radical nationalist Catholic identity?”

Elaine: “Yes, yes and that’s the thing – I mean that comes from a very personal stand point, I mean you know a kind of like undermining a feministic ideals and rights in Poland.”

Tony “Did you have a conversation with her about the possibility of this being a problem in terms of Western media and blackface?”

Elaine: “Yes, yes we did have a conversation about it but, you know, I guess it’s like her mode of address which she is loyal to is one that is the Polish context and in the Polish context in the work that she does has always had to do with religious address like female issues and the religious address and you know considering the span of her exhibitions here that is always the context in which she has been operating in and there is some type of, like a loyalty, to still addressing these issues because in the local scene or the Polish context it is something that is really significant and matters to her personally. A dialogue we were having even no the train coming up yesterday about, you know, cross-culturally how the reception to this type of work, and it is interesting to have the opportunity to speak with you so soon even before the exhibition opened just to tease out these ideas.”

Screen Shot 2018-02-12 at 16.04.51
Kle Mens Stępniewska Mimetic Black Madonna of Częstochowa, presented at the “Blessed in Black” exhibition, BWA Zielona Góra Opening Friday 16 2018

Tony: “Definitely, and I wanted to address this in terms of the fact that you know Poland is no longer an isolated country, it’s very connected to the West it is part of the European Union, so do you think that the artist has a responsibility to reflect the sensitives to the kind of anti-Blackness that the wealth of Europe was built on, in terms of slavery; what I am asking, I guess is, was there an intentional interrogation of this being possibly offensive?

Elaine: “Yes, there was but I suppose I mean because the work is deeply autobiographical, I mean, it was obviously a central focus which has to do with the interrogation that she’s always been making in her work, and there was a consideration, it was a consideration that I suppose was something that had to be addressed outside the Polish context because there is a certain clarity about the Polish context and the response here, and she is currently, and still currently, being emerging, so is therefore concerned like with the localisation of the work rather than the expectations of having an international audience as such and so I guess first and foremost it was the pursuit to create the work for like personal and autobiographical reasons and the response that others are having I guess was something that I hoped that we would be able to address or circumvent through, you know, for instance, that text I wrote but of course it’s still a big question, and I mean unaddressed in many different respects and in many different like areas and many other artists work as well.”

Tony: “I understand the Polish localisation; I respect that totally. My question again in a different manner: considering that we live in a globalized world that there seems to be maybe a blind spot in Poland around this kind of history of anti-Blackness and I am wondering if unintentionally perhaps she is giving license to the xenophobia in a sense through her autobiographical work because there’s a lot of literature on blackface, and this is racist regardless of whether or not you are or are not intentionally racist, or you’re using it for autobiographical purposes. I am not a Black person, but I have been reading a great deal of literature on blackface because it is something I have been focusing on recently. And when, Black people ask you not to do that, that it’s racist, and that it is not acceptable, and I am wondering if, do you foresee this being a possible blight on her ability to work internationally?”

Elaine: “Oh yes we definitely had that discussion and I mean at this stage it’s like, you know the motivations were there, and the work was made, the motivations are of course are of pure intent and that’s not to say that it was a consideration or it’s like allowing for the blind spot to happen as such but it’s a purely a matter of, I suppose, of context and addressing specificities she wanted to address, and, I mean I guess that expectation addresses a particular context and should be located in that context when considered and it really depends upon the readership as well and how far the readership are willing to go in order to understand the context because this was the discussion that we had that for an international audience who does not understand the Polish context which is not the expectation of everybody to understand the context, they will simply see the imagery and, you know, it will raise alarm bells and raise question marks as to what that means, especially considering like the Polish climate which will be quite ironic in a sense because of all the groups in Poland, it’s like this particular group is you know, rallying for equal rights and freedoms, despite the fact that this particular context it’s talking about female freedoms. And so it’s also the question of readership as well, the origin and the context but in addition to it, the interpreter or the readership, their knowledge of Polish history which is difficult for a reader.”

Tony: “I was also looking into the Black Madonna of Częstochowa and I was thinking you know, it’s interesting because, you know, there’s a lot of conflict around weather or not it was originally a Black person, or if like you said if it was because of the environment that the painting was in and I’m wondering though even considering the Polish context as I recently promoted an article about Black people who were living in Poland who were feeling like they were discriminated against, and I am wondering if it’s not recapitulating or rehashing a kind of insensitive white feminism that we have seen in the United States, because we did see this kind of feminism in the United States, where white women ignored the concerns of Black people, and I know that the artist’s intention maybe as pure as possible but is it not so much about the intention but more about the kind of real socio-material history of the exploitation of Africa, which now includes Poland because Poland is receiving a great deal of EU aid which comes from countries that have historically colonized Africa – that’s my question.”

Elaine: “Yes…I mean, I guess, what is art for is not to open up these kind pain territories of conversation and it’s like question of ignorance or ignoring those concerns of those people I mean this is the very this is the very reason that we are having this conversation over the telephone in the first place (Tony: “Yes?”) and, yes it is something, as cited in my text, shouldn’t be you know, invisible, or shrouded in mystery, or shouldn’t be unknown or unseen or a topic that shouldn’t be able to be spoken about and I guess the funny thing is that you and I speak about it and neither of us are Black either (Tony: “Of course”) and I suppose that’s I suppose the quite special thing about controversial artwork or controversy in politics and art in any case, whatever the case, it does need to be addressed, and it does need to be spoken about and especially in the Polish contexts as well.”

Tony: “This is why I wanted to bring you into a dialogue, because Kle Mens did some traveling in the United States and there’s some problematics: she’s posed in the desert as a cowboy in an outfit with her hands in the position of a gun and, as you know, this is the very image of settler-colonialism; in another image Kle Mens poses next to Medea whose is a Black man who plays a character, with her mouth painted white and she’s sort of imitating this character. The question for my readers will be: Is this a pattern of racist behavior because she did this whilst she was in the United States saying that she always wanted to be a cowboy, and then embodying a cowboy, which as you know, is like the archetype of genocide against Native Americans? Now we see her in blackface in Poland and what I am trying to say is: does she lack a sensitivity towards these issues? I can send you the image if you like.”

Elaine: “It’s true I haven’t seen this image so I’m not sure to what, to what you are referring and, em, … yes, … I mean, that’s the thing like Kle Mens has a kind of like a history of work that is considered controversial in Poland, for sure.”

Tony: “Yes, she wrote: ‘Forgive me for being so removed in this desert I’ve always wanted to be a cowboy, it turns out that the outfit in the desert does not unnecessary nonchalance and very practical choice’, and then there’s an image of her as a cowboy with a gun, you know, her hand in the position of a gun, and there’s another image with her – she has her breast covered – it says ‘Wild West’ and she has a cowboy hat on so my American readers will extrapolate this is very problematic in terms of Native American Culture and Black Culture in the United States..”

Elaine: “I can fully [cough … inaudible] yeah, understand, definitely understand, the American address to my own personal relationship to the United States; and I suppose that’s a thing like, you know, perceiving the continuity between these behaviors and like also to do with the gaze, the critical gaze, seeing like a continuity and seeing patternized behaviour and like inferring from it, or also on ‘Forgive me for being so removed in this desert I’ve always wanted to be a cowboy, it turns out that the outfit in the dessert does not unnecessary nonchalance and very practical’s part, acknowledging that there is that gaze on her also like a different question; was this picture on like you know a personal account or was it published somewhere?”

Tony: “A public image that she made when she did her tour of the United States.”

Elaine: “As a public image on like a personal platform, or was it like made into an artwork? ”

Tony: “She did a bunch of series of sort of like pieces when in the U.S. that she presented public but they were sort of on her personal Facebook page but she obviously going for an artistic element because there is a series of them and some of them are very wonderful, I’ve been looking at them; you know, I don’t know the artist personally. My concern is [… inaudible] I can e-mail them to you as well.”

Elaine: “I will ask her about these images; I am not entirely sure; I have not seen these image series but I will look at it.”

Tony: “Do you want me to e-mail it to you?”

Elaine: “Yes I would be interested to see it. Or in fact I can ask her about it.”

Tony: “Yes, ask her about it.”

Elaine: “From what I can hear of the description the images, I mean, I don’t know, I mean I will cite again the performance aspect of her work, and this is, I guess this is the dangerous thing about irony and ironic performance is that it is controversial or could definitely be taken as serious, and this is the exact problematic of it, or any type of readership of work and that’s the thing you’re obviously well informed, very well read person and so that’s why you know in like having this conversation, it’s not a simple case as reading the image and judging it but also is also interrogation involved, hence why you’ve reached out (Tony: “Yes, of course.”) and that is not necessarily always the case with every type of reader and that is something I completely acknowledge, and especially when you’re making public works you obviously have to cater for a general audience and that’s where the conflict has been surrounding her work, it’s actually taking place in more remote places like Zielona Góra or where her previous exhibitions have taken place; and Warsaw altogether is a different story, London is a different story, New York is certainly a different story and I think those kinds of variations, those variegated landscapes when it comes to art and politics always have to be addressed with specificity for sure.”

Tony: “And that’s my concern, as I am wondering if this artist is unintentionally running rough shot over histories of oppression whilst trying to ironically, or paradoxically, undermine the oppression against women in Poland; obviously it’s terrible here, I mean the abortion law is something that is a tragedy and I stand with feminists and I am pro-choice – I’m very much on the Left, of course, and so I obviously stand with what she’s trying to do in that respect.”

Elaine: “Do you speak Polish by any chance or will you be coming to the exhibition even?”

Tony: “I don’t speak Polish but I am planning on coming to the exhibition, yes. I will definitely try to make my way out there. It’s not a direct route.”

Elaine: “It’s not by any means close. But it’s an interesting one to me, because, I mean, you know, Kle Mens herself is definitely of like, you know, aligned with Leftist politics in Poland and so I think it would be – I mean, if for nothing else – interesting to all to all be able to be in the same place and have a conversation – especially being in this context of being in Zielona Góra and also seeing the reception from the public. I understand it is far away.”

Tony: “It is a bit far but I would like to plan to be there. Is she available just for a brief questioning or is she busy right now?”

Elaine: “She is busy right now like, you know, rendering films and what not, and, we will be about to go into the gallery shortly, but maybe, I mean although her English isn’t the best but maybe if you have questions and in direct contact with her you can send her some questions I guess, although there’s a bit of a language barrier.”

Tony: “If there’s a language barrier then you are the best person to go through because you are obviously intimately involved – you are curating the piece – so I think that’s sufficient in terms of understanding it and the context. So my last question I’m just going to put to you in terms of the piece: if you received a feedback from the Black Communities throughout Europe and the United States that this was offensive, would you consider retracting it?”

Elaine: “Yes, I mean, that’s I guess the very thing about sensitivity, I mean for it to like engage conversation and engage dialogue, that I mean, that would be naturally like very deep dialogue as well that would have to be had, for that purpose alone, that something has not relegated to an unseen history, which for so long it has been, which I suppose in some senses is the issue in the first place you speak of in the first place that you speak of with like the ignorance or you know the insensitivity of doing such an action but not having awareness of its history – if it were to engage in that conversation and there were like issues like surrounding it – even given its specific context – and that dialogue were to take place, then of course, of course.”

Tony: “That’s good. The last question is: with this specific context do feel that because of the location that the work loses any racist imagery?”

Elaine: “I mean like you mentioned before, we live in a kind of globalised world and obviously these images circulate online offline and therefore exposed to you know a wide variety of people across times and cultures of course spanning the globe and that’s the funny thing where the exhibition is concerned, like the physical manifestation or the materialization of the work itself, that should always be remembered (Tony: “I agree”) in the context of the city because that’s obviously where it is going to engage people who may not be exposed to it like online, or whatever, like an older demographic for example, or a you know a demographic, that is, like living more remotely, or doesn’t have much to do so much exposure to contemporary art necessarily, and it’s a funny one, the question of the audience in terms of the physical audience that is always staying in its locale verses the online community and the online audience; and should be this case of making a division between the two which so rarely happens nowadays because of promotion and media and so on and so forth then it would be an interesting consideration how things would differ then; the Internet, what a crazy idea.”

Tony: “I agree with you totality and I am refreshed to hear that you would consider rescinding the work if you got those criticisms from people in the Black community, Black communities, I mean there are many Black communities in Europe. I keep going back to this article that I read, ‘Just Say No To Blackface’, the author was saying that you know regardless of whether or not the person is racist or not, regardless of their intention, that the appropriation of utilizing the skin of a Black person in the 211st century is not just problematic, but always and already anti-Black and whether or not that’s the intention of this exhibition, I tend to fall into the category of saying, well yes, it does feel anti-Black to me and, to be honest, that’s kind of where I’m probably going to be writing this article from because of the fact that you know Kle Mens is not isolated to Poland, she’s been to the United States, she’s internationally traveled, and Poland is obviously has access to the Internet so whilst she may be doing this as a personal autobiographical response to this Catholic tyranny, she’s engaging in anti-Blackness, according to many Black scholars and Black people themselves.”

Elaine: “I think we’re… and again this is also to do with my sensitivities out of respect for her that if you do have questions about the autobiographical dimensions of it I would suggest that you meet with her personally or you write to her about it where all those things were exposed in the text.”

Tony: “I have written to her for comment but I haven’t received any comment back; I know she’s very busy. What I am trying to do is give her the benefit of the doubt in terms of this because it is very problematic in terms of the global context, but also I think for one to use Black skin – Blackness on one’s skin – to elucidate their own suffering – it is a form of appropriation and it does have a violent aspect to it – regardless of the context. Even in China and South East Asian you saw the terrible blackface toothpaste which was exported by the United States obviously – that was a local situation but obviously has global problems.”

Elaine: “By no means am I meaning to draw direct parallels or anything, but I am Asian and there is like there a history of you know colonization there as well and there is a lot of cultural appropriation that happens as well in terms of you know like dress or skin tone is a thing like yellow skinned or whatever but that does not seem to be so much as addressed, or as exacerbated.”

Tony: “My other question is that there is photographic series that she did as well where she dresses up as a Japanese geisha. So this idea that white Europeans can put on any outfit that they want is troubling in itself, I think?”

Elaine: “And it’s a funny one because you know in our brief discussion in the beginning about our personal histories it’s like I having traveled around you know I kind of drift between identifying with Eastern and Western – and I’m citing a really banal example but for my purposes it seems to make sense, that there was a lot of internationalization of like the Western gaze that also happened and so when you know ‘Ghost in the Shell’ came out Scarlett Johansson was playing the main character who was meant to be Japanese woman, I’m not sure if your familiar with that film (Tony: “Yes, of course.”) – there is like this giant insurgence, like backlash, that it’s like white-washing, you know ‘Ghost in in the Shell’, which is originally a Japanese Anime, but looking at the Japanese Anime obviously there’s this other dimension to the problematic which is that all of them do have Western looking faces and little pointy noises and there’s lots of Asian aspirations to look like Western women and you see the permutations and proper violence on the body, plastic surgery, and you know the mediatisation of these images perpetuate what that is meant to look like and so this is also like, you know, I am by no means like stranger to like the Western gaze and racial sensitives, but even for me myself I suppose straddling both it really always came down to me  … to do it … like intent and context. And so when we decided to work together on the show that was like my understanding of it, and my relationship to it, that those things were absolutely considerations but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be discussed, and there was going to be a discussion around it, like the one you and I am having, for which in some sense you know I am grateful, and its meaningful, and this is exactly the nature of the type of work Kle Mens is making which opens up a gap for this kinds of conversations mostly for her in a religious context, but you know for instance for us in a more of a racial global context.”

Tony: “Yes, absolutely, but what I’m wondering is, haven’t these conversations been going on for a couple hundred years in terms of anti-Black white appropriation?”

Elaine: “Oh yes they absolutely have but maybe not in the context of Poland, which they should be, which they should be and which is why this conversation is important and also why the mere fact that such work was created in order to have this conversation and for it to be a conversation in Poland is also important.”

Tony: “Yes, I agree completely, and I think this is a very an interesting aspect, and I think it’s going to raise a lot of questions of old and new questions, but you know I am concerned clearly because of the fact that it seems very racially insensitive. And that was my major concern, and you know I know that it’s autobiographical but there’s a long history of white feminist women appropriating Blackness or side-lining it for their own biographies, and I am concerned about Kle Mens’s use of it considering her exposure to the United States and other places. The question is: Does she not know better? That’s the point: does she not know better? And not that it doesn’t open up new questions, it does, in Poland I’m sure, but it seems to…”

Elaine: “It also rehashes old ground that should be already addressed and positioned already. It is absolutely true and I mean this is kind of illuminality (?) of the entire exhibition that I mean that is metaphorically instigated by the Black Madonna itself as an iconographic figure, as also being a very old one at that, and so, I mean, in terms of like you know reappropriating Blackness, more specifically, I would say it is not a reappropriation of blackness because blackness is used or signified as a color as ambiguous as it is in the Black Madonna and definitely not in a racial context and that is the really important and significant but extremely ambiguous I suppose point.”

Tony: “So you don’t see it as blackface then?”

Elaine: “No, I absolutely, I absolutely don’t. Reading it in this context, I do not and that’s why it wasn’t addressed in the text, even though that’s a consideration because it can be read that way, and this is the thing about artworks and interpretation in general; artworks, subjectivity and interpretation – that there is like possibility for that dimension of reading of course, but should I have read it in that sense then I think neither she nor I would be involved in it as such; it’s specifically the religious-feminine context.”

Tony: “So it loses its racist context because of the locale?”

Elaine; “Because of the specific locale, yes, I guess. In a global sense, sorry to like rehash exactly what we were talking, or course it is inseparable from its mediatization, like we addressed earlier, it’s like a globalized world and should we be able to severe its decontextualized representation abroad verses the context that exists in here; I mean I guess it would be a different story, but considering the readership and the demographic that the work is considered for … it is raising specific questions as you know living in Poland that has to do with like leftist politics, like female rights and the history of the Black Madonna which is quite a specific iconographic figure that is kind of domesticated or exists within Polish households. So again this is also like a matter of that type of normalisation of the woman in that type of domain and so that is very specifically the context it is situated in for which the work is made, so I was thinking about in the context of Zielona Góra which is the location where she was invited to do the exhibition that is the mode of address that is taken for the work.”

Tony: “So the local context, yes?”

Elaine: “It would be interesting if you do come down, and obviously still the language barrier, and like talk with Kle Mens, and also with the audience that will come, but even just to see the response which I can’t anticipate from the audience, and you know ask them what questions it is raising, and for which obviously the mention of blackface could also be something interesting to also critique or question the audiences reading of it, but it is made with a kind of a specific audience in mind to evoke a certain response that might have to do with more of a religious address, more than anything, and seeing whether that is fit for that intention, would also be something quite interesting; I am sorry I have to head off soon but it would be a pleasure to meet should it be the case that you do come down for the opening. The opening is this Friday evening; it is far away to travel.”

Tony: “It’s definitely been a conversation that has been fascinating and elucidates. You know this conversation has been very educational, and so I might go; obviously it’s quite remote. I am interested in this obviously because a person painting themselves black raises red flags and so I wanted to speak directly to the person and or the curator to figure out to what the local context is and also to bring up these difficult questions and I’m glad that we did bring them up. Are you expecting any international press there?”

Elaine: “I mean not that I’m aware of; there’s Polish press surely, but no.”

Tony: “OK, because you’re close to Germany though, right?”

Elaine: “Yes, yes, it is close to Germany but I guess from my limited understanding it’s not really like so recognized as like you know cultural capital as such so as to warrant people to cross the border to attend the show and hopefully you will see.”

Tony: “It’s a really small town isn’t it, it’s a very small community. All right, I’m going to let you go now so that you can get on with your business, I know you are busy right now because you’ve got the show to start so, thank you Elaine and I really appreciate your time.”

Elaine: “Well thank you for your call and obviously your deep and important questions; it was a pleasure to speak and maybe I will see you on Friday in that case.”

Tony: “Yes, alright take care.”

Elaine: “OK, you take care too. Have a nice day ahead.”

Tony: “OK- you to.”

Tony: “Bye.”

Elaine: “Bye.”

 . . .



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s