“We have no new masters because digital technology is more than an invention, tool, or genre,” wrote Jerry Saltz recently in his review of the New Museum Triennial. “It is a whole new landscape, a new biology, one that is changing us as much as we are changing it—and could one day live on the moon or inside us. Either way, we are digital’s bitches.”
Saltz, whose infamous and art historically raunchy Facebook posts have gotten him temporarily banned from the site, has an amazing point. In 2015, if we’re being truly honest with ourselves, we all exist as digital’s bitches. We spend our days with our hands all over devices that we have no idea how to construct, refashion, or repair. In small ways we’re all trying to come to terms with the future of the digital world, but at this moment, due to a severe lack of equity in the tech world, we’re at a stalemate.
In this context, “we” is a very generous descriptor for those existing on the margins of the Internet. Every year the public gets a report from Forbes or some other big tech blog on the dismal representation of women and people of color employed by tech companies. Most recently, Vice’s Motherboard declared that we are in “The Year of the Table Flip (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻,” decrying that it’s time for a new brand of tech activism. This article, though cis-white-female–centric, encourages those on the margins of tech to take to the web to give voice to their injustices in public forums.
Of course, the art world isn’t immune to any of this. In the Hyperallergic piece “Where Are the Women of Color in New Media Art?,” several women artists take organizations like the cyberfeminist collective Deep Lab to task. Some of the most powerful language in the article referred to a lack of access to resources and exposure—as well as issues about erasure, agency, ownership, and the Digital Divide. As Morehshin Allahyari, a new media and digital artist, educator, and curator, put it: “I have struggled, feeling isolated in the new media art scene, being frustrated with the white and specifically Western topics, exhibitions, articles, panels, etc., that also happen to always be the bubble of the same 30 artists. Rarely are new or unknown faces or artists being introduced or brought into these communities. Even when it comes down to feminist issues and events focused on women, WOC are mostly excluded. Their bodies, concerns, daily life struggle are rarely taken seriously or included in a lot of these events and publications.”
Since starting Black Contemporary Art in 2011, I’ve avoided publicly theorizing about artists and art history, instead opting for presenting artists and writing that already exists in the world. Here, I’m (mostly) staying true to that mission by highlighting artists from around the world as they want to be presented. To return to Saltz’s point, as we embark on the new landscape, it’s imperative that we labor to create a new biology that is as diverse and equitable as possible. I hope their words help spark conversations about representation, erasure, and the future of digital art.
In closing I’d like to thank Paul Schmelzer and the Walker Art Center for this opportunity, and to acknowledge Elizabeth Mputu, Jacolby Satterwhite, DJ /Rupture, Adrian Piper, Lorraine O’Grady, Pope.L, Yung Jake, Mendi+Keith Obadike, Tabita Rezaire, Kenya Johnson, Kenya (Robinson), Ronald Wimberly, and so many other artists fighting the digital fight.
Kimberly Drew received her BA from Smith College in Art History and African-American Studies, with a concentration in Museum Studies. An avid lover of Black culture and art, Kimberly first experienced the art world as an intern in the Director’s Office of the Studio Museum in Harlem. Her time at the Studio Museum inspired her to start the Tumblr blog Black Contemporary Art, sparking her interest in social media. Find her on Twitter at @museummammy and @blackcontempart.
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