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Art Thu Feb 06 2014

Four Of A Kind: Not Black Enough

Thumbnail image for 4oaklogo.jpg

"The Cosby Show's" run ended over 20 years ago, yet, in today's pop culture circles, it still remains a popular "go to" reference when discussing what--or who--is black in America.

When it came to The Huxtables, so-called "arbiters of blackness" argued that everything from their professionally successful, financially comfortable lifestyle to their articulate speech was "unrealistic" for a black family.

For Paul Branton, Darno Demby, David Anthony Geary, and Brian Golden, it is precisely this mindset that has served as the catalyst for their latest exhibit, Not Black Enough.

These visual artists, collectively known as Four Of A Kind, are using their individual artistic styles, expressions, and interpretations to combat and challenge definitions of blackness from within and outside of the black community.

How was the Four Of A Kind collective formed?

Geary: I met the art of all three members before I met the men behind it--each struck me differently. The idea of a collective had been my head for years; little did I know, not only was I not alone in those thoughts but also, three of the very people I had thought would make a strong mix were among those that had similar thoughts. After some conversations we all agreed this could prove to be a powerful thing for us, for Chicago, for the world, and for our art.

Branton: I have always been a believer of strength in numbers. For several years, one of my goals was to start a collective. It was not known to these three guys, but I've had this plan in my head that included them. First and foremost, I admire their art, but more importantly, I admire their manhood. There are bits and pieces of each of these men that remind me of myself and it resonates in their art. I think that's why our work blends so well. It made perfect sense to me that these gentlemen be part of this idea of a collective that I've always wanted.

How would you describe your mission?

Geary: Growth! Individually we can all do a lot! Now multiply that by four and you realize the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. We feed and strengthen each other so to speak, not just as artists, but as human beings. This isn't art for art's sake. The work we create is about the world around us and the world within us!

Branton: Our main mission is to create great art. Personally, we have ideas, deep beliefs, and social agendas that do find their way into our art and speak to whomever that message is for. But honestly, our main purpose is to maximize this talent we were given and make dynamic art, [while] simultaneously elevating each other in our practice.


Thumbnail image for Those That Control PAUL BRANTON.jpg
Those That Control; Paul Branton.

Not Black Enough is your upcoming exhibit; what was the inspiration behind this idea?

Golden: What is "black enough?" Is there such a thing of being or looking black, and if so, who is deciding? "Not black enough," in my opinion, is the subject of years of conditioning ourselves to think that in order to be black you must act, think, talk, and look a certain way. We look at people who may speak properly, dress conservatively, listen to music that may be deemed "not black," or may even vote Republican, and consider them as not being black enough or [as being] a sellout. It's an absurd issue that for generations has influenced the way we identify ourselves and each other.

Branton: "Not black enough" could mean so many things to different people. Our four perspectives and approaches to this theme have been completely different, yet have overlapped in some areas. My personal inspiration for this exhibit is being a black male with a lighter complexion--the dichotomy of living this life as a black male yet feeling trapped between these two worlds, and not [being] fully accepted in either. You are too black for the white kids and not black enough for the black kids. There is isolation in that position, and then being trapped in that "between" world, you become an ambiguous black.

Geary: The title serves as a primer for critical conversation and expression around the idea of black identity from each of our perspectives. Can blackness be defined, qualified, or quantified? If so, what is the assessment? Where are the limits? Who gets to define it? What are the results of all of that both from inside and outside of that identity?

Demby: I think the term is pretty ridiculous, actually; to call someone "not black enough" is almost laughable because regardless of what we think of our brothers and sisters of color, the world will see them as black. There are undertones of racism within our culture; if you date someone out of your race you are automatically not black enough. If you talk without "Ebonics," you aren't black enough. There are so many ways to be so-called "not black enough," but I think as a community, we should discard the inner-racism within our culture. There is enough racism coming from outside sources--we don't need it within our culture as well.

What do you want viewers to take away from the exhibit?

Geary: Not to sound clich├ęd but I want it to make you think! We all come to view the world from our own lens developed through our experiences. I want the work to challenge, affirm, or even destroy the ideas and feelings people may have about the subject. The same work of art may make one viewer recall a fond memory, make another fill with rage at the audacity of the notion, or even bring one to tears confronted with the reality we live in.

Golden: Ideally, our artwork! [Laughs]. We challenge ourselves with topics that are personal and uncomfortable in hopes to spark the same reaction we had while painting it. Each person who views our work will have a different reaction to it than the next. It is my hope that no matter what reaction you have to it, at least there is one.

Demby: I want people to view the work then look within to see if there's something they need to change within their lives about perceptions, stereotypes and racism within the Black community.

Branton: With most of our work, I think it's an honest refection of life. We have never created art with the main purpose of financial gain; we, as a collective, create work to express ideas and create dialogue. I want people to evaluate our culture and be able to look at it from different perspectives. Perhaps these conversations will trickle down when it comes to raising our youth, and as Black people, we overcome this conditioning of this false definition of blackness.

~*~

Not Black Enough opens Friday, Feb. 14 from 6pm-10pm at NYCH Art Gallery, 643 W. 18th St., in Chicago's Pilsen community. Admission is free; for more information, call 773-413-9565.

NOTE: The exhibit closes March 9; follow the Four Of A Kind Facebook page for updates and more information.

 
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Duane / February 6, 2014 8:49 PM

Awesome article. These are clearly dry astute & talented Brothas! I wish I could be in Chicago to see their exhibit. However, I will spread the word! Job well done!

Duane

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