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I haven't read the article Nancy quotes but would like access to its
>From my experience here in Africa, I can tell you
that what you have quoted is still very real. Classism, racism, and
sexism are much more pronounced, alived, and entrenched than I could
have imagined or previously experienced. I felt as if I was reading
an article written about a boy I recently met in Zanzibar, who
stopped from peddling his dirty trinkets in a worn plastic bag, to
sit and draw with me and my partner. He had no shoes. He couldn't
write his name but he knew how it sounded. He was keen to draw but
couldn't go to school. His clothes were ragged and dirty and patched.
He was 8 years old and never owned a pencil, let alone a book or a
pen or a pair of shoes. What are his aspirations as an artist? What
are his hopes for his future? Will one day he think back to his game
of art in a traveler's sketchbook and decide that's what his passion
The situation in the Bigger's article that Nancy quotes
is happening right now to millions of black youth, not just in the
South. Racism isn't past. Discrimination isn't over. It's alive and
well and breathing down our necks every single day. Perhaps the
article asks us to be awake to the experience people of color have to
face with fragile hopes that it will be different for their children.
To this end, I recommend the video, "The Color of Fear," for those of us who
think such writing is condescending.
Over the holidays, a major article about John Biggers appeared
in the Dallas Morning News (December 28) and I would like to
pose some questions it raised for me and ask you to share your
The two-page article barely touches on Dr. Biggers' artwork.
Instead, it focuses on the prejudice and discrimination Biggers
faced throughout his life as a black child, a black student, and
a black artist. The tone of the article, to me, seems somewhat
condescending (and remember, this is just my opinion). When
we interviewed Biggers for ArtsEdNet, we found him to be dignified
and positive in outlook and very much self-aware. Despite the
discrimination he has suffered, he is not a bitter man. He
acknowledges the past, but does not dwell on it. One of the reasons
the interview with Biggers in "The Web of Life" is so extensive is
because we wanted to give him a chance to speak for himself.
Here's a sample from the article to give you an idea of the
slant of the article:
"A boy of no more than 7 or 8, with high cheek bones and a full
set of curls, stands in the post office in patched clothes,
dirty from playing in the creeks and alleys he frequents. He
feels the cool marble under his feet as he gazes way up at a man
painting on a huge wall the images of blacks picking cotton. 'I
was fascinated by this.'
"The youngest of seven has no idea that the very thing that has
so entranced him will become his calling. As a black child, he
can't afford whimsical dreams of being an artist. He lives in
the segregrated South of Gastonia, N.C., where the train shakes
as it rolls in, and 'Negroes' are expected to toil in fields,
scrub laundry, and clean white people's houses--not create
For me, the attitude of the article (which reads like fiction) raises a number of
questions about the broader implications. For example, how do we,
as art teachers, best teach about artists of different cultures
without being (unintentionally or otherwise) condescending or promoting
stereotypes? How can we present the most accurate and nonprejudicial
portrayal of an artist? Should we interpret an artist's life (as I feel the author
of this article did) as well as his or her work? How much of an
artist's life do we need to know to fully appreciate his or her
work? What do you think about these issues?
Nancy Walkup, Project Coordinator
North Texas Institute for Educators on the Visual Arts
PO Box 305100, University of North Texas
Denton, TX 76203
940/565-3986 FAX 940/565-4867