All Art is Political

By Halley Murray, Chair, Art For Reparations

All art is political.

As Chairman Omali Yeshitela of the African People’s Socialist Party says, “Every white aspiration and dream, every expectation for happiness and a good life– from a successful marriage to a secure future for their children– requires drone strikes in Pakistan, police murders and mass imprisonment in the African colonies and barrios in the U.S., and starvation and forced displacement of the oppressed throughout the world.”

There is a colonial context to a white person’s ability to make art for personal enjoyment in our “free time,” while colonized people suffer in prison and are killed by the police. The reason that white people can develop our talents, attend art school and profit off our art is because the majority of the people on planet earth are living under the oppression of white power imperialism. All talents and skills and abilities of white artists sit on the pedestal of this oppression.

Even the poorest, white “starving artist” still has access to resources and social wealth that come at the expense of African people. The myth of the white “starving artist” does not compare to the actual starvation that African children experience who do not know where their next meal will come from.

There is no such thing as “apolitical art.” Even a seemingly innocent painting, screen print or song made by a white person must be analyzed through the lens of colonialism: we white artists and musicians use stolen resources from Africa. The coltan in computers for graphic design work, the precious metals in our tools, the fibers in fabric made on cotton plantations, the art schools we attend that are built on stolen Indigenous land, even the time we have to make art in a safe environment– our access to all of these resources and more, from which we benefit, are rooted in the enslavement and genocide of African people.

To what end do white people make art? Who benefits from our creations? There is a human need for self-expression, but for white people, does it have to come at the expense of oppressed peoples’ ability to live? These are questions that the Art for Reparations project has been engaging with– the answers of which are found in the A4R Benefit Auction for the Black Power Blueprint.

Freedom of speech for whom?

Chairman Omali Yeshitela has stated that the “free speech” so loved by white artists is used as justification for white oppressors to degrade and humiliate colonized people in any way they see fit. In 2015, the white nationalist French magazine Charlie Hebdo published a slanderous cartoon of Mohammed, the prophet of Islam. When colonized, Middle Eastern people resisted this ongoing degradation of their culture by imperialist France, the white liberal world exploded in defense of this imperialist magazine on the terms of “supporting free speech!”. In the discussions of “terrorism” afterwards, the white liberal media was silent on the vicious colonial history of France in terrorizing Africa and the Middle East for centuries.

Another example is from 1969, when Chairman Omali Yeshitela–then known as Joe Waller–was imprisoned for the heroic act of ripping down a huge, degrading mural from the walls of City Hall in St. Petersburg, Florida. The painting depicted a mockery of African people to entertain white people;it was an absolute insult to the self-determination of black people. The white artist who painted it was celebrated for their “free expression” in humiliating African people, yet when an African man resisted that oppression by ripping it down in a heroic act, he was jailed for years!

This begs the question: who is “free speech” really for? Where is the “free speech” of colonized people to justly express the pain of their oppression and their visions of liberation? White artists owe reparations for our historic complicity in profiting off the exploitation of African people.

The real history of art: an African Internationalist perspective

African Internationalism is the revolutionary, scientific and materialist worldview and theory of the African working class. This theory recognizes that European wealth and African impoverishment occurred as a result of the European attack on Africa, African slavery and dispersal, colonialism and neocolonialism and the imperialist created capitalist economic system. It explains why there are art history classes which teach that the Great Pyramids of Egypt were built by aliens from another planet, or that Egyptians were white people– instead of acknowledging the incredible engineering of African people which still mystifies the world today.

We learn about Picasso’s Cubism as being one of the the greatest contributions to modern art, but we are not taught that he started doing these paintings after visiting Africa and seeing the incredible art there made by African people. Picasso was a white artist whose paintings sell in the millions, yet the African people from whom he directly stole were not paid a cent for their creative genius.

Overturning these colonial contradictions of arts education is not simply a matter of learning more about African art. It is to acknowledge that all culture in white society is stolen from African people. Africa gave birth to and is the origin of all things cool, stylish, hip and cutting-edge: Drag makeup and fashion design is African culture. Rock & Roll is African culture, and the Beatles owe reparations! Techno music, dance, hip hop, all of these invented by African people that today white people have appropriated and benefit from economically. This is one of the many reasons why white artists and musicians owe reparations to African people.

Art museums are filled with the stolen loot of African people. Archaeology sites on the African continent were and still are goldmines where imperialist historians profit tremendously by excavating the land that is the birthright of African people. The Metropolitan, the Louvre, the Boston Museum of Fine Art: all of these institutions profit from this imperialist conquest and owe reparations to African people! All the stolen African art must be returned to the African People’s Socialist Party, the vanguard of the African working class!

Art for Reparations is the future for all white artists

The A4R benefit auction for the Black Power Blueprint will raise material resources to African people to fight for self-determination. It takes the idea that auctions were used by white people to sell enslaved Africans to white slave master bidders, and flips it on it’s head to be that of reparations to African people. White artists who contribute their work choose to be on the side of material solidarity with the oppressed and colonized people of the world by paying reparations using our art and creativity. If you’re a white artist and consider yourself a “progressive”, take the true progressive stance by participating in the A4R auction! Submit your work and/or join the event committee: artforreparations.org

Black Power Blueprint

Is one of the APSP’s many projects for self-determination by & for the working-class black community. Based in St Louis, MO, the BPB is building community programs such as: an Uhuru House venue space and community center; the One Africa! One Nation! Marketplace; the Uhuru Jiko community-commercial kitchen; housing; community gardens and so much more amidst a backdrop of food deserts, gentrification, and painful lack of economic development in the black community. The BPB is the most positive project in the world! blackpowerblueprint.org

Art For Reparations (A4R) is a project of the Uhuru Solidarity Movement (USM) that challenges the parasitic white art world that has profited off of the labor, genius and resources of African people since the birth of colonialism and Europe’s assault on Africa. A4R offers white artists the opportunity to take responsibility for the parasitism of the gentrifying, colonial-capitalist art institutions and music industry that we benefit from by allowing us to use our creativity to forward the African revolution. 

USM is an organization of white people created by and accountable to the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP). We organize in the white community for reparations to African people, taking a stance of material solidarity with the black working-class struggle for freedom that has been led by the APSP since 1972. USM is the mass organization of the African People’s Solidarity Committee, which has been organizing since 1976 for white community support of campaigns to stop the war on African people. 

Submit your work to the Art For Reparations auction! artforreparations.org

One Response
  1. Anne Hirsch 49 years ago

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