Anne Abouchar is the volunteer Art Guide at St. Paul’s Cathedral and currently finishing an MA in Christianity and the Arts at King’s College London. During this lockdown, she has posted a daily musing about art and its connection to this unusual experience. You can find her on twitter.
The American artist, Kehinde Wiley, black, gay, male, takes everything you thought you knew about art and culture, particularly the often-fraught understanding of black masculinity, and refigures it to create something entirely new and yet entirely recognizable and accessible. Much of his practice is restaging the grand, political, powerful, white portraits and old masters that fill museums and government buildings by replacing the white figures with contemporary Black and African Americans. Young men with low riding jeans and backwards baseball caps astride rearing stallions, always with elaborate, floral patterned backdrops more suited to palaces and state rooms. At times he switches the gender of the subject, forcing the viewer to think even more carefully about what exactly is happening on the canvas.
This piece is St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness. But wait, this can’t be John. It is a woman, a young woman. A young, trendy (look at those nails!), Jamaican woman. And look at that posture? Not for her the usual John role, forever pointing at the Christ child or heaven or showing us his reed cross, or a lamb or a scroll, all of these reminders that the subject of the painting, whether he is present or not, is always Christ. This John has her hand on her own chest. Me, she is saying, I am the one you should be looking at. John is the one who prepares the way, he prepares us. This John looks straight out of the canvas, strong, unflinching, into our eyes. There is no doubt or hesitation here. She knows exactly what she needs to do. And she is letting you know that you need to pay attention, need to make yourself ready to hear the message of truth. Because we still are not ready. We are still not listening. Now, as I type, American cities are literally on fire with the rage and fear of injustice. We still need John to prepare us for Christ’s message of love. Love one another. Not love only those who look like you, who are attracted to the same kind of people, who share your belief system, who are from your home-town. Love everyone. Listen.
As part of Pride Month 2020, Crossbeam and Waterloo Festival are presenting a blog, featuring LGBTQIA+ artists and those who hold LGBTQIA+ art dear to them.
Josh Mock, curating the series, writes:
"It is my hope that by sharing the stories of diverse artists, we can appreciate and celebrate all those who strive to use art as a vehicle for LGBTQIA+ inclusion, activism, and advocacy."