a lesson on cultural appropriation by art hoe founder gabrielle richardson
We talk to the founder of Art Hoe Collective about the blurred line between cultural appropriation and appreciation and why we need to give more visibility to queer artists of color.
Growing up, Gabrielle Richardson was surrounded by African artwork. It was through these objects that Gabby felt connected to her cultural roots. "Sadly, not many brown kids are able to be surrounded by art that depicts their own culture, by artists of that culture," laments the 23-year-old Philadelphia native. "I was raised in a family where not only was art an outlet for me, but it was also a possibility."
Wise beyond her years, Gaby has taken it upon herself to educate the world on cultural appropriation, all the while striving for greater visibility for those who need it. Together with curators Jam and Mars (they met on Tumblr, where else?) she set up the Art Hoe Collective, an online platform dedicated to giving queer artists of color a voice, and thus challenging the white heteronormative narrative that dominates the art world. Currently working on expanding the website — as well as a workshop series in Brooklyn that will allow young kids to explore a range of artistic expressions — we talk to the artist and activist about the dangers of cultural appropriation, the politics of the ghettoizing minorities, and why black lives matter.
What's the story behind Art Hoe Collective?
The collective began when we realized that there are so many talented people of color but no platforms willing to give us a voice. Physical spaces to showcase art are dominated by whiteness. The digital world is full of young vibrant artists of color who are breaking boundaries with their work. They are neither being credited or compensated for what they contribute to culture and society. A space was needed, for us by us. That's how Art Hoe Collective was created; we saw a problem and remedied it in the best way we could.
What does being a part of a-queer-artists-of-color only space mean to you?
We think anytime an artist of color makes art it is always automatically political. Our ethnicity defines our art because our ethnicity defines the way we navigate in the world. Safe spaces for marginalized groups become havens where we feel our safest, both physical and in our expression. The world we live in has made it clear that the lives of queer people and black people aren't worth as much as our white counterparts. If people think our lives don't matter than what is our art worth? We want to be on the same platform as these white men but we don't want to be stripped of our identity in order for people to consider us as equals. Often when we are brought into these spaces our narrative is only boiled down to our suffering, to a strange voyeurism. Queer artist of color spaces are important so that we can not only be there for each other in our times of sadness and need, but to also revel with each other and celebrate ourselves and our happiness. We create these spaces so we can have a platform, a place where we can nurture each other and grow.
Is there a danger of ghettoizing yourselves?
I don't consider it necessarily a danger, I consider it an inescapable reality. People are always quick to label the actions of black people as ghetto, I could simply breathe and people would call it ratchet. I know whatever I do or no matter how illustrious I become I will never be able to remove myself from that word, it's something that I have accepted as being ingrained in my identity and in my blackness whether or not I want it to be.
Cultural appropriation has become a part of the conversation in a way it has never before. Why do you think this is?
Cultural appropriation is so much more than white people using African American vernacular or girls wearing dashikis and bindis to this year's biggest music festival. Cultural appropriation is when those in power siphon marginalized groups and commodify them for mass consumption and profit. It is a capitalist and white supremacist act that has serious detrimental effects on people of color. Black and brown people are dying at the hands of the police, while white people are out here wearing cornrows and listening to NWA.
Where does appreciation end and appropriation begin?
Appreciation ends and appropriation begins when power comes into play. Appreciation means there is an equal exchange of both power and culture that is acknowledged by both parties and acted out with respect. There is a fine line between celebrating something and commodifying it. Cultural appropriation happens when a history and a lifestyle get reduced down to an aesthetic. It's painful seeing my features passed down from my family, and having a negro nose that justified Philandro Castile's stop, being bought and lauded by the white rich.
What do you stand for?
I stand for marginalized groups having a voice and being treated equally to their counterparts. I stand for reparations and the reclamation weapons fashioned against marginalized groups to be remolded for our own use. I stand for empathy. Too often people are sympathetic but lack the ability to empathize. I'm tired of sympathy and pity, put yourself in someone else's shoes and assist in change. Staying neutral in times of injustice is a political stance in itself; we need to actively attempt to dismantle structures of power in whatever way we can, we are currently living in the defense. Even just speaking on an issue is a stride in the right direction.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
My personal dreams for the future is to continue being able to showcase the work of all these young artists and do more for them and invest in their dreams work. If I could I would want to make a career out of this. In the grand scheme of things I would like for a future world that is more inclusive, for a future that doesn't favor cis white men, where black people stop getting killed on the streets, and having their dead bodies being forced into the public eye for consumption.
Photography Amber Mahoney