In 2018, Jamaal Barber exhibited the Bright Black gallery to bring attention to the shared experiences black people feel in America's past, present and future. Bright Black gallery created a space for the complex experiences of black Americans to be acknowledged. It is here where Barber presents his viewer with The American Color Theory. Using 10 serigraphs, Barber applies basic color theory to define acceptable blackness in American culture. Unconventionally, this ingenious collaboration of traditional artistic rule and the black experience brings about a compelling conversation: to what extent does a concept prescribe an understanding of survival?
At Georgia State University, film studies professor, Dr.Alessandra Raengo, leads the research group, "Liquid Blackness," that conceptually seeks to examine blackness as aesthetics. Upon first hearing the phrase I was unnerved, as something within me felt true concern. On their research site they express that"[liquid blackness] is moved by the conviction that blackness, as both a visual and racial fact, is the most productive and important starting point to theorize the ontology of images and, similarly, that the “color line” –even when it is scrambled and molecularized in aesthetics forms of black liquidity—offers the most sophisticated and urgent approach to the conjunction of aesthetics and politics.” For a group to be examining the cultural influence of the black experience, there were very few black people contributing to the dialogue. Liquid blackness suggested a mode of the black experience without the absence of white understanding. What started off as a class exercise steadily transitioned to the realms of academic conferences in a bid to combine aesthetics with theory. I met with Raengo to find out who liquid blackness was for. As she and I sit across from each other we both share the same concern: to get things right.
Raengo explained that liquid blackness, since before its creation, was meant to create a space for students to start discussions of race in a productive manner. In contemporary film, black artists possess more expressive freedom than ever before, that explores the black community and experiences without compromise. As I spoke with Raengo, it increasingly became clear that the work was a call to action. The phrase first stated between class walls was soon partnered up with discussions of post-blackness during the LA Rebellion Film tour and eventually found its way to become the foundation of the liquid blackness film project. It is only now in the process of grounding itself as a theory.
I understood what space she was trying to create, but I couldn't help but question the gaze the group feeds. Scholarly expectation does not always take into consideration the validity and significance of culture, especially in regards to black arts. Barber explains that a concept comes with a limitation of what one wants to understand. There is something in the black experience one does not want. Since conducting our interview, Liquid Blackness has updated their website with an openness to exploring better ways of addressing their audience. As they move forward, I encourage them to consider the audience they are reaching versus the audience that deserves to be heard.