Monday, 5 December 2022

The Golden Age. By Alanna Airitam.

Tucson artist Alanna Airitam began the series The Golden Age “out of a desperate need to see people who look like me represented in fine art”. Considering European art history's clear tendency to minimise and otherise minorities, the history of slavery and colonisation and their consequences seen in today's structures, Airitam's work can be interpreted as "a fresh, and necessary, correction to an art historical injustice". 

Above: Queen Mary (The Queen), 2017

In her series, in which she emulates 17th century Dutch Realist painters, the subjects are rendered in a classical manner using rich colours, flowers, warm and subtle light resembling paintings (just like the paintings resembled photographs). Airitam knows about the symbolic power to see someone one identifies with in gilded frames next to timeless works of European masters. To her,  this as an approach to inclusion, empowerment and to resiliently countering a history of negative representations (via).

Above: Saint Monroe (2017)

"My practise is focused on researching historical and contemporary narratives of representation, heritage, identity, stereotypes and the erasure or manipulation of history through portraiture and vanitas still life subjects. I make photographs that reference the long history of racial and cultural inequality, while contemporary in the desire to move into the futre with honor and grace. 

Weary from experiencing how people of color are treated, I feel called to create images of people who look like me presented with reverence and dignity. I began working on The Golden Age during the spring of 2017, during which time I came to recognize ways I’ve allowed negative projections of others to hold me back artistically. I would spend time in museums admiring the lighting in European Renaissance paintings, while feeling how far the whole experience was from my own reality. I understood how uncomfortable I was in art spaces, that in so many unspoken ways I didn’t belong. 

It became important to create work as a tribute to Black culture while addressing how we’ve been omitted from art history. The Harlem Renaissance was our Age of Enlightenment, and I wanted my work to reflect the connections between the two periods. The Dutch Renaissance arose in Haarlem, Netherlands from the Eighty Years‘ War with Spain, as the Harlem Renaissance was birthed from the remnants of the Jim Crow and Great Migration north. To pay homage to the Harlem Renaissance while recognizing 17th century Dutch portraiture, I named the portraits as saints, with a street name or notable Harlem landmark as a way to commemorate the significance of this time (e.g. Saint Sugar Hill, Saint Madison, Saint Strivers)."
Alanna Airitam


Above: Dapper Dan (2017)

- - - - - - - -
photographs via and via and via