Black History month presents us the opportunity to reflect on the arbitrary construct of race, and how it cruelly permeates our culture as racism. The fight against racism, inherent in the fight for civil rights, is in essence a story of ingenuity and endurance.  This month’s Justice + Art selections contemplate, without judgment, various strategies Black Americans have employed – from passing to activism – while attempting to survive and overcome systemic racism.

Art

Mary Lovelace O’Neal
Forbidden Fruit, 1990. Courtesy The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased with exchange funds from the Pearlstone Family Fund and partial gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

In this video, the artist discusses the effect of using black powder pigments, a technique she created for her signature Lampblack series, in Racism is Like Rain, Either it’s Raining or it’s Gathering Somewhere (1993).

Since the late 1960s, American painter and arts educator Mary Lovelace O’Neal has been known for her abstract works that pair bold, monumental scale with layers of unexpected materials. An active civil rights participant, O’Neal challenged the emphasis placed on figuration by her contemporaries of the Black Arts Movement as a means for Black empowerment. “Being unruly is my nature. As for doctrinaire, I had to blow it up,” she stated in this 2020 interview with the New York Times.

Mary Lovelace O’Neal grew up in the South in the 1940s and 1950s and attended Howard University to study art. After getting her MFA at Columbia, she moved to California around 1969, and she has lived and practiced in the Bay Area ever since. As a professor in U.C. Berkeley’s Studio Art Department, Lovelace O’Neal became the University’s first tenured Black professor in 1985. After decades of traveling, teaching, and painting she retired in emerita from U.C. Berkeley in 2006.

“What I wanted to learn to do as a young person was to make a really good painting, a really tough painting…to make art that had balls; not so much that it would change the world, but to have the balls to be beautiful.”
Mary Lovelace O’Neal

Music

NAKKIA GOLD
WIZ KHALIFA
BOB MARLEY

Rising singer-songwriter and performer Nakkia Gold made headway in 2021 with her single “Justice (Get Up Stand Up),” a collaboration between the legendary Grammy-winning rapper Wiz Khalifa with footage from Bob Marley’s smash 1973 anthem. Raised in South LA, California, the R&B and hip-hop artist endured a life-altering injury and rough childhood. She is determined to bring resources to Black communities and to uphold Marley’s legacy of bringing peace and unity to all. More

Film

Photograph: Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP

Rebecca Hall made her directorial debut in Passing, a deeply personal journey, stemming from the discovery of her own family history. States Hall, “In any family that has a legacy of passing, you inherit all of the shame and none of the pride.”

Passing is a 2021 historical drama film adapted from the 1929 novel of the same name by Black author Nella Larsen. Set in 1920s New York City, the film, shot entirely in black and white, follows the intertwined life of a Black woman and her white-passing childhood friend. “The idea of a Black woman passing for white is the stuff of melodrama,” notes Vanity Fair, “but [director] Hall resists the ease of histrionics. The film lingers on the shame felt in finding a place where we don’t quite belong.” Starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga. Streaming on Netflix. NPR review.

Suppressed Speech

Photo illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

Born and raised in Southern California, Brit Bennett graduated from Stanford University and earned her MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan. She is a National Book Foundation “5 under 35” honoree, and her essays are featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, and Jezebel. Her second novel, The Vanishing Half, was a New York Times best-seller, and it was chosen as a Good Morning America Book Club selection. 

FEATURED WORK

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

“Bennett’s gorgeously written second novel, an ambitious meditation on race and identity, considers the divergent fates of twin sisters, born in the Jim Crow South, after one decides to pass for white. Bennett balances the literary demands of dynamic characterization with the historical and social realities of her subject matter.”
—The New York Times

“Assured and magnetic…a tour de force.”
Kirkus

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