newshour art beat

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NEWSHOUR ART BEAT: ‘We, as a people, still exist’ — artist illuminates Native American history with family photos

In 2009, artist Mercedes Dorame received a gift from her father — a CD filled with images of her family, some of whom she had never seen before. It was a new window into the history of her family, members of the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe who had for generations been based in present-day Los Angeles and the surrounding area.

Shortly after she received those family photos, Dorame began to project those images onto different locations in her apartment and then photograph each composition. The result is “Living Proof,” a series of photos that brings her family’s history directly into her present-day environment.

Dorame, now based in Los Angeles, said the work is part of an effort to illuminate the survival of her tribe’s culture amid a historical legacy of violence toward Native Americans in the U.S., including land theft, kidnapping and forced assimilation. She said her grandparents rarely spoke of their heritage until later in life.

“It’s really hard to acknowledge the gaps in your own history,” Dorame said. “It’s hard to acknowledge that there are these kind of holes and places that you don’t know how to fill it in.”

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NEWSHOUR ART BEAT: Rebecca Sugar, Cartoon Network’s first female creator, on writing LGBTQ stories for kids

There’s never been anything on television quite like Steven Universe.

The show, which made its debut in 2013, comes from Rebecca Sugar, a veteran of Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time and the first woman to create a show for the channel.

Sugar tells NewsHour: “[LGBTQ] stories are not considered appropriate, are not considered G-rated content, and because they’re not, they’re kept out of media for kids. And I think that that is profoundly sad.” 

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NEWSHOUR ART BEAT: This Chinese-American cartoonist forces us to face racist stereotypes

After receiving a “genius” grant from the MacArthur Foundation last week, the PBS NewsHour spoke with the award-winning author Gene Luen Yang on his graphic novel, “American Born Chinese.”

The book features Cousin Chin-Kee (as in “chinky”) who is a mishmash of some of the worst historical — and modern — American stereotypes used against Asians.

How did people originally respond to the character when the graphic novel was published?

I would say I’ve gotten different types of feedback about the Cousin Chin-Kee character. Some older Asian-Americans told me when they got to that character, it was so painful for them to look at. It was hard for them to finish the book, and that was what I was kind of going for.

Some other Asian Americans around my age or people who are younger who grew up in a minority setting where they’re not around a lot of Asian-Americans; they totally understand. They think he’s funny, and they understand that he’s funny in this really painful way.

And then — it hasn’t happened in a while — but every now and then somebody will come up to me, usually it’s at a comic book convention, and they’ll say, “You know that Cousin Chin-Kee character? He’s so cute. Do you have a T-shirt with him, because he’s so cute.” And I was not going for cute when I designed that character.

One of the regrets that I have with the book, like if I were to do the whole thing over again, is I would try to exaggerate the Cousin Chin-Kee character even more, to cut down on some of that.

Oh, wow. That’s an actual regret you have?

Yeah. I feel like I didn’t exaggerate him enough. If I had exaggerated him a little more, then maybe people would not find him cute.

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NEWSHOUR ART BEAT: An intimate portrait of black fatherhood in East New York

As thousands of people in cities across the U.S. took to the streets in recent years to protest the police killings of black men, photographer Phyllis Dooney noticed something missing.

In all the media coverage of these killings, “there’s so little mention that these guys are fathers,” she said.“I see this gaping hole in terms of representing people of color, especially the black man, as a family member, as a father, as somebody who loves.”

Dooney said that omission is the result of a racially-charged stereotype of black fathers as neglectful. But that stereotype does not account for the complex social effects of mass incarceration, the War on Drugs and other events that have disproportionately affected black families. She decided to document their stories in East New York, a Brooklyn neighborhood that lies between the southernmost reaches of Queens and the shallow marshes of Jamaica Bay, where approximately one-third of residents live below the poverty line. “What I found was a lot of strength, resolve, character and self reflection,” she said.

Raheem Grant, 39, poses for a portrait with his daughter, Nature Grant. “When I was growing up I didn’t have a father. My little one, she gets scared of the dark: ‘You don’t have to be scared because Daddy is here.’ Just knowing that I am there for them makes me feel like I accomplished a lot.” 

David “Prince” Pierce, 22, poses for a portrait with his son, Prince David Pierce, in East New York, NY on March 29, 2015. “I think about this all the time: who am I doin’ this for? Can I really make this work with his mother or am I just running away from it ’cause I still want to live my life? I don’t want to be tied down. I know a lot of cats that didn’t see 21, didn’t see 25, didn’t see 30.” 

Ariel “AJ” Jones, 25, poses for a portrait with his daughter, Lexi Preston, in East New York, NY on July 12, 2015. 

Ramall Thomas, 24, poses for a portrait in East New York, NY on April 19, 2015. “[As a father] you can’t teach a woman to be a woman, but you can show her what it’s like to be loved by a man, what type of man would she want to look into [later on]. Hopefully it would be somebody like her dad.”

Willie Johnson, 33, poses for a portrait in East New York, NY on Feb. 13, 2016.

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(All photos courtesy of Phyllis Dooney)

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Empowering young girls of color with art that looks like them.

More from PBS NewsHour.

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NEWSHOUR ART BEAT: Ride the ‘border wave’ with this Mexican artist

Austin-based artist Gerardo Arellano blends expressionism and pop art to create what he calls “Border Wave,” a style of imagery that is influenced by life on both sides of the U.S. and Mexican border.

“When you live art, you notice there are no borders,” Arellano said. “I always identify myself as both sides.”

Last year, Arellano was asked to create a series of paintings commemorating 10 contemporary Hispanic and Latino American figures for National Hispanic Heritage Month. The portraits (including ‘Hamilton’ creator & the star of PBS’ own documentary HAMILTON’S AMERICA, Lin-Manuel Miranda) are currently on display at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.

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NEWSHOUR ART BEAT: Video artist, MacArthur fellow Mary Reid Kelley on recovering history’s lost narratives

Kelley works with her partner Patrick Kelley to create films that attempt to fill in the gaps between established facts, often telling the stories of people on the margins of history books. “I am very interested in people who do not, for some reason or other, tell their own stories, or can’t tell their own stories,” Kelley told the NewsHour. Kelley plays all of the characters as they face the challenges that come with moments of intense societal change — a struggle that resonates with the present day. But to talk to Kelley about her work is to wander with her through history.

Researching World War I led Kelley to the stories of sex workers who had staffed popular brothels for soldiers during the war. Kelley said she encountered no testimony from the women who survived those brothels, a gap in recorded history that “shocked and really disappointed” her, Kelley said.

But then she realized: “If you had survived that experience, no one would think it was a valuable experience. The best thing that could happen to you would be to go somewhere and have nobody ever realize that it happened to you. … It would have damaged their lives to say it. This happens to a lot of women now, who suffer sexual violence.”

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NEWSHOUR ART BEAT: Muslim political cartoonist fights oppression with pen

Sudanese cartoonist Khalid Albaih was lauded as “an artist of the revolution” during the Arab Spring, and now he’s pointing his pencil at other world events.

Albaih’s work is on display in an exhibit called “It’s Not Funny” at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, until July 30. Art Beat interviewed him at Sankofa Video Books & Cafe in Washington, D.C., in May.

What do you believe is your role as a political cartoonist?

“It’s about education first. I want to tell people what’s going on. I read a lot and then hope to let people know what I think about what’s going on. The second thing is creating dialogue, asking questions. […]

The great thing about social media is people talk to each other. People from different parties talk to one another. A person from the Muslim brotherhood will engage with a communist, and down the thread they become friends. They talk to each other. This is what we need in the region, people to talk to each other rather than to talk with guns.”

Is there any amount of self-censorship before you deliver your message?

“I don’t think there is anything that is strictly off limits. I think you can talk about anything you want to talk about, but it depends how you talk about it.”

Do you think you’ve mastered that?

“Well, I’m not dead yet.”

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NEWSHOUR ART BEAT: Light show turns primeval Kyoto forest, shrine into a kaleidoscope

The Shimogamo shrine, a World Heritage site whose history dates back to the 6th century, and Tadasu no Mori, the shrine’s forest and a national historical site, have long been sacred places in the Shinto religion. Japanese artistic collective TeamLab paid tribute to this history with “Light Festival of Tadasu no Mori,” an installation that transformed the landmarks with a vivid spectrum of light.

All photos courtesy of TeamLab

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