Should I Trust My Art Dealer?

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Should I Trust My Art Dealer?

I have been an artist for more than 30 years. I have taught at New York University and Columbia University and was a visiting critic at Yale University. Principally, I’m a photographer. My work tackles womanhood, motherhood, race, colonialism, and feminism. My art is held in multiple museum collections and I was recently the subject of a solo presentation at the Princeton University Art Museum, where curator Klaudia Ofwona Draber wrote: 

“Who is Yo Mama? She is your mother. She is the Virgin Mary. She is Jesus. She is Rajé. She is ‘Chillin with Liberty’ (1998). She is Queen Nanny of the Maroons, and the ‘Mother of Us All’ (2004). She is Renée Cox. She embodies the artist’s alter egos. She empowers.” 

As a Black woman, I know what it is like to have every part of your anatomy and being questioned. My work “Yo Mama’s Last Supper” (1996) engendered racial abuse when Mayor Rudy Guiliani demanded its removal from the Brooklyn Museum in 2001. This incited others to question me as a Black female artist portraying herself in a biblical image. I never gave in to such racially charged statements and responded by saying, “I have a right to reinterpret ‘The Last Supper’ as Leonardo Da Vinci created ‘The Last Supper’ with people who look like him. The hoopla and the fury are because I’m a Black female. It’s about me having nothing to hide.” I’m a Black female who chose to be at the center of that table. We all know what happened to Guiliani; it took two brave Black women he slandered to bring him down

Writing from experience, people of color are often seized upon, especially when mistakes are made. That happened to London-based art dealer and activist Amar Singh, who was recently smeared by Graydon Carter’s publication Air Mail. I have recently been working with Singh and Black curator Destinee Ross Sutton on including my work in Sutton’s show Unapologetic WomXn during the 2024 Venice Biennale. Singh has been tireless in his support. When the Venice show closes in November, this will pave the way to my solo show at Singh’s gallery, which he is reopening in London later this year. 

Air Mail’s article, published last October, is 12,000 words of pure dung not worthy of artist Chris Ofili to weave upon one of his canvases. The piece focuses on Singh’s relationship with his ex-girlfriend, who has admitted to cheating, gaslighting, and lying to him during their relationship. Singh exploded over the phone in a vitriolic tirade upon her confessions. He said in a public statement posted to his Instagram in January: “Verbal abuse is wrong. I am profoundly sorry for my behaviour.” The ex-girlfriend later told Karen Ocamb of the LGBTQ+ publication the Los Angeles Blade, “All good that he has done and the kind person he is should not be overpowered by a few minutes of responsiveness to my actions.”  

Art dealer and activist Amar Singh photographed by Renée Cox (image courtesy the artist)

What happened to Singh is a mix of racism and tabloid journalism, in my opinion, but it is also systematically indicative of how Black and Brown men and women are disregarded. Singh also faced questions over his heritage and education. The allegations that he lied about helping charities and museums are utterly false. Questioning the background of people of color was a driving force of colonialists who would argue such people could not run their own countries or minds, especially the British imperialists who worked so hard to colonize Singh’s ancestors and mine. I’ve known Singh since 2016; we met when he was only 26. For all that time, he has been passionate about art and human rights, fighting against LGBTQ+ conversion therapy in India and the human trafficking of women and children. He has already proven he’s the real deal.

Queen Nanny was a warrior who fought against colonial forces, protecting Jamaican people against those who wanted to enslave them due to the color of their skin. That is why I become her in my work. That work does not stop when I put the camera down. The people Nanny protected wouldn’t have needed protection if they were White, and neither would Singh.

In my work “The Yo Mama” (1993), I am pictured fully naked holding my son. It is a work that signifies the power of a woman but also the power of a mother. A mother protects. Breonna Taylor could have been my daughter. Amar Singh could be my son. Singh made a mistake over the phone in his personal life, but the attempted erasure of his work which has positively impacted many is grounded in a racial current that sails against the idea that a 34-year-old Brown man could have helped so many people and succeeded in the White-dominated art world. So, should I trust my art dealer? Yo Mama sure does!

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