“The Changing Complex Profile of Black Abstract Painters”

Idili Donald Odita_Firewall 2013

In “The Changing complex Profile of Black Abstract Painters,” Hilarie M. Sheets writes about the experiences and struggles of Black abstract painters in the art world. I have felt similar pressures to create didactic work, to “represent,” in both my visual art, and in my poetry.

“I remember going with my abstract work to the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the director at the time said to me, ‘Go downtown and show with the white boys,’” says Pindell, adding that William T. Williams and Al Loving met with the same kind of response. “We were basically considered traitors because we didn’t do specifically didactic work.””

While Pindell says his work is not “specifically didactic,” I wonder why abstraction by artists of color must be viewed as something without language, something that does not “tell” and is not capable of teaching. Abstract works by white artists are often endlessly reviewed, analyzed, and mined for their minute codes and visual language, the artists positioned and repositioned within their historical contexts. And yet abstract works by artists of color are often passed over–even in their own artistic and ethnic communities–with an assumption that their expression is limited if not overtly, figuratively didactic and representative.