Commentary | Culture Shocked


Dear Daily,

Nathaniel Hanula-James’ article “‘Collage and Conflict: Manifestos on the Politics of Visual Art’” (Culture, October 21, Page 20) somehow manages to miss the mark on both politics and visuality. Hanula-James opens his article by quoting the ‘purple introductory blurb’ that accompanies Theodore Harris’ collages, which were on display last week at Cafe Artère as part of QPIRG’s Culture Shock event series. Hanula-James cites the blurb and insufficient effort in drawing attention to the collages as the exhibition’s pitfalls. Had Hanula-James bothered to read the introduction in its entirety, he would have realized that the author of the ‘purple prose’ is Amiri Baraka.

For those not familiar, Baraka is one of the most important black American intellectuals of the last 50 years: from founding a publishing house that represented Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, to writing seminal prose, poetry, and non-fiction texts on black identity and politics throughout the civil rights movement, to holding teaching posts at San Francisco State, Rutgers, and Columbia. He is now professor emeritus in African Studies at Stony Brook University. Baraka’s prolific career has not been without controversy. His shifting positions on feminism, queer politics, marxism, nationalism, anti-semitism, and violence have been divisive for as long as he has been writing.

In the context of the exhibition, Baraka’s contributions add depth to the art and its presentation: Why did Harris choose this introduction? What relationship does Harris see between his work and Baraka’s? Given that Harris and Baraka are a generation apart, to what extent and how are politics being passed between the artists? Hanula-James would have done well to ask himself about the identity and relevance of the person writing the introduction. Perhaps, had he been less immobilized by intellectual laziness, he would have been rewarded with a greater appreciation for the exhibition as counter-histories, forgotten events, and under-represented debates would have become legible through Baraka’s legacy and framing.

To say nothing of the self-righteousness necessary for the McGill rank and file to cast uninformed judgment on Professor Baraka’s work, hopefully, the next time The Daily decides to mock and belittle his writing, they will have the decency to call him by name.

 —Liam Mayes
M.A. student in Communication Studies