This is America
Artist André Ramos-Woodard re-appropriates racist pop culture iconography on the road to deconstruction and reconciliation
Once Houston, Texas-based multimedia artist André Ramos-Woodard was accepted into a graduate program for photography at the University of New Mexico in late 2019, he realized he hadn’t quite worked out his thesis idea.
“I’ve always been an artist who explores my identity in my work,” he tells SFR, “I like to draw, I’m a photographer, so I knew I wanted to combine those things into one and I knew I wanted to make work about Black history.”
And though Ramos-Woodard set out to create something celebratory, his early forays into Black representation in mediums such as cartoons, films and comic books cemented a rather insidious truth—a deep vein of anti-Blackness and racism has run through art and popular culture for nearly as long as either has existed, and it’s something with which consumers will need to contend.
“I didn’t really notice it growing up, but with the cartoons I was watching, for example, there are inevitably traces [of racism and anti-Blackness] ‚” he continues. “Mickey Mouse has white gloves, which have connections to minstrelsy. It actually wasn’t difficult for me to Google ‘Black cartoon characters’ and find minstrelsy—these things are ingrained into contemporary pop culture and cartoons.”
In Ramos-Woodard’s forthcoming exhibit BLACK SNAFU (Situation Niggas: All Fucked Up), the artist delves into the long-held notions of racism inherent in nearly every corner of the entertainment we consume, particularly mainstream media. A continuation of his college thesis (Ramos-Woodard wrapped up his master’s in studio art in 2021), the show comes to Foto Forum Santa Fe this week across a wide range of edited, built up, torn-down, de- and reconstructed and otherwise altered images, photos, illustrations and more. Throughout the dozen or so pieces, Ramos-Woodard crafts a juxtaposition between so-called heroes like Walt Disney and the shockingly obtuse imagery he not only championed, but infused into the broader comic book and cartoon lexicons.
“I think it’s really about recognizing the various symbols ingrained into our culture,” Ramos-Woodard explains. “White gloves, again, for example...are not just about ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s cartoons, they’re a specific and direct connection to vaudeville minstrelsy in which blackface performers—white people—wore white gloves and became the interlocutors of culture. Everything I’ve uncovered...it hasn’t been borderline racist, it’s just racist; but it wasn’t even racist to [the creators]—it was just Black people to them.”
Of course, facing these hard truths and working toward some form of reconciliation isn’t the type of thing that will happen overnight, but Ramos-Woodard says he’s noticed a bevy of popular cartoons and comics embracing better forms of representation. For his own part, he also injects imagery into his work from more positive representations of Black folks in pop culture, suuch as characters from shows like The Proud Family or The Boondocks. A show like BLACK SNAFU isn’t about finalizing the conversation, anyway, it’s a chance to continue talking, and a way to face the truth.
“I’m all about power to the people, and I think there’s a path to reconciling—and part of it is recognizing the various styles of racism,” Ramos-Woodard explains. “There are a lot of artists out there, and they can do it without the white gloves and the exaggerated lips.”
Ramos-Woodard will also host an artist talk at the show’s opening this Friday evening. (Alex De Vore)
André Ramos-Woodard: BLACK SNAFU (Situation Niggas: Fucked Up): 5-7 pm Friday, Nov. 3. Free. Foto Forum Santa Fe, 1714 Paseo de Peralta, fotoforumsantafe.com
Here and There
Here and There
Five or six years back, photographer Paul Shapiro and his wife decided to split time between Santa Fe and Whidbey Island north of Seattle, Washington. As climes go, the areas are as different as they come, which struck Shapiro, an accomplished photographer, with seemingly endless inspiration. Shapiro kicks off his first-ever local show of large-scale photo prints this week at Downtown Subscription. With something like 40 shots on display showcasing the disparate majesty of his two hometowns, Shapiro captures 180 degree views of forests, beaches, wildlife and even mankind. Often, the subjects occupy only the smallest section of Shapiro’s photos, leading the viewer to spend time surveying the contents of an image while searching for its focus. “I pay particular attention to scale, capturing the shared connection between people and the breadth and depth of our landscapes,” Shapiro writes. “I...strive to capture the powerful, expansive and multi-layered beauty of landscapes and juxtapose these images with the awe-inspiring—often solo—experience of being alone on the midst of something much larger.” (ADV)
Photographs by Paul Shapiro: 7 am-4 pm Thursday, Nov. 2 though Thursday, Nov. 30. Free Downtown Subscription, 376 Garcia St., (505) 983-3085
The Maiden/The Heron
The Museum of International Folk Art has really been dropping fire when it comes to its Japanese offerings. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve certainly seen the Yokai exhibit on demon lore, for example. Or, if theater is a little more your thing, you’ll be delighted to learn kabuki master Nakamura Gankyō (AKA Kirk Kanesaka) will perform and demonstrate the art with the upcoming Gidayū Sagi Musume—or Gidayū “The Heron Maiden.” The tale of a heron jilted by its mate who transforms into a young bride, the piece projects a certain sadness, sure, but also one of endurance, changing seasons and hope. This particular piece—one of four from the collection known as The Popular Celebrations of the Four Seasons—dates back to 1809, too, so you know it has staying power. Aptly, it’s all about winter, but also a reminder that spring will undoubtedly arrive. (ADV)
Gidayū Sagi Musume/Gidayū “The Heron Maiden” with Nakamura Gankyō: 1 pm-3 pm Sunday, Nov. 5. Free with admission ($0-$12). Museum of International Folk Art, 706 Camino Lejo (505) 476-1204
You’ll need to move quickly if you’d like to catch Strata Gallery’s first-ever Emerging Member solo exhibit from Phoenix, Arizona-based Iranian artist Mehrdad Mirzaie—the entire run is only 10 days. But it’s so worth it. The new program from Strata aims to create a cohort across a number of solo shows from emerging artists, and Mirzaie as the kicker-offer feels auspicious. A multimedia master, Mirzaie’s current works converge at the intersection of culture, history and politics and across a wide range of archival images. By reevaluating and re-contextualizing the content of images long past, Mirzaie considers new emotions given the passage of time in a quest to find “honest narration.” This comes with a healthy dash of scrutiny, of course, and also the gift of hindsight. Who knows what new ideas might arise? (ADV)
Mehrdad Mirzaie: Imago: 11 am-5 pm, Tues-Sat beginning Nov. 7; closing reception 5 pm, Friday, Nov. 17. Free Strata Gallery, 125 Lincoln Ave., (505) 780-5403