Curator: Kenya (Robinson)
May 11—June 30, 2013
Sequential art holds an important place in the development of American myth making and within this sphere the caricature of Blackness has a long animated history. Tom and Jerry, the best of enemies, present a compelling model for the complex relationship between Blacks and whites, while the minstrel underpinnings of Mickey Mouse offer a glimpse into the convoluted histories that inform American pop culture. The symbiotic relationship between early animation and Jazz emphasizes the American-ness of Black identity, codified by the likes of Betty Boop, Coal Black, and The Sebben Dwarves. Bugs Bunny is a direct descendant of the irrepressible Br’er Rabbit, while the Road Runner series freely samples tenets from trickster folklore of the African Diaspora. Even “The Man of Steel,” the preeminent figure of comic book superheroism, bears traces of John Henry, the original “Steel Drivin’ Man.” Often acting as the foil to the main characters or, in the case of Felix the Cat, serving as the inspirational touchstone for design and mannerisms, these representations are ultimately limiting in nature.
‘Toonskin attempts to perforate and expand these limits by bringing together contemporary visual artists who reinterpret, recreate, and redefine Blackness—and otherness more generally—within an animated context. The artists featured in ‘Toonskin represent the ongoing exchange of influences that characterize the American cultural landscape. ‘Toonskin will not examine Blackness solely as an expression of identity; works included will also consider the physical nature of ‘black’ and blackness as a formal choice. The inking of printed comics and animation cells is monopolized by the color, while ‘zine culture relies upon black as the photocopier standard. ‘Toonskin will dip into the inkwell to investigate the visible and engrossing trail of these wanderings.