"The Sowing"

Material Information

"The Sowing"
Murray, Nathan A
Art -- Art and Art History
Place of Publication:
[Gainesville, Fla.]
College of the Arts; University of Florida
Publication Date:

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Master's ( Master of Fine Arts (M))
Degree Grantor:
University of Florida
Degree Disciplines:
Committee Chair:
Smith, Nan S
Committee Members:
Calluori Holcombe, Anna
Arbuckle, Linda Jane


Subjects / Keywords:
African American culture ( jstor )
African American studies ( jstor )
African Americans ( jstor )
Archetypes ( jstor )
Police ( jstor )
Racism ( jstor )
Sowing ( jstor )
United States history ( jstor )
White people ( jstor )
Women ( jstor )
Project in Lieu of Thesis
Project in Lieu of Thesis


“The Sowing” is a body of work consisting of seven figurative ceramic sculptures. This sculptural grouping explores the effects of historical characterizations of African Americans and how they have led to many of the modern day problems with inequality, racism and violence in the United States, specifically towards African American men. Negative archetypes were widespread in the early 20th century within literature, cinema and other forms of entertainment. They characterized African Americans as lazy, animalistic and untrustworthy. These ubiquitous images helped shape the beliefs of generations of people in this country as well as the inherent beliefs that influence subjective decision making at all levels of society. Progress has been made on civil rights issues, and time has largely antiquated the image of the blackface, mammy and jezebel. Their legacy lives on however, through their transformed iterations, which have evolved and changed over time. This evolution has transformed overtly racist imagery found in the past, yet their essence remains intact through new forms. New iterations; with equally powerful imagery, can be found in widely consumed pop-culture images in music, movies and other forms of popular entertainment. “The Sowing” illustrates the world inherited by children, born in the United States today. My project in lieu of thesis explores what has formed prejudice, the inequality and violence that result from social injustice while pointing to the need for change.
General Note:
Ceramics terminal project
Statement of Responsibility:
by Nathan Murry

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
Copyright Nathan Murray. Permission granted to the University of Florida to digitize, archive and distribute this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.


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3 TABLE OF CONTENTS CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION 4 2. RACIAL ARCHETYPES 4 a. 5 b. Sapphire 6 3. PERSISTANT IMAGERY 7 a. Rap Influence 7 4. POLICE SHOOTINGS 9 a. Michael Brown 10 b. Eric Garner 12 c. James Crawford III 13 5. ARTIST INFLUENCES 15 a. Kara Walker 15 b. Russell Biles 15 c. Kyle and Kelly Phelps 16 d. Roberto Lugo 16 6. PROJECT 17 a. 18 b. Apathy Figures 18 c. Problem Figures 19 7. CONCLUS ION 21 8. TECHNICAL APENDEX 21 9. BIOGRAPHY 22 10. BIBLIOGRAPHY 23


4 INTRODUCTION The Sowing is a body of work consisting of seven figurative ceramic sculptures. This sculptural grouping explores the effects of historical characterizations of African Americans and how they have led to many of the modern day problems with inequality, racism and violence in the United States , s pecifically towards African American men. Negative archetypes w ere widespread in the early 20 th century within literature, cinema and other forms of entertainment. They characterized African Americans as lazy, animalistic and untrustworthy. These ubiquitous images helped shape the beliefs of generations of people in this country as well as the inherent beliefs that influence subjective decision making at all levels of society. Progress has been made on civil rights issues , and time has largely antiquated the image of the blackface , mammy and jezebel . Their lega cy l ives on however, through their transformed iterations, which have evolved and changed over time. This evolution has transformed overtly racist imagery found in the past , yet their e ssence remains in tact through new forms . New i terations ; with equally powerful imagery, can be found in widely consumed pop culture images in music, movies and other forms of popular entertainment . The S owing i llustrates the world inherited by children , born in the Unit ed States today . My project in lieu of thesis explore s what has formed prejudice , the inequality and violence that r esult from social injustice while point ing to the need for change. RACIAL ARCHETYPES A picture says a thousand words. The imagery that was ubiquitous in early 20 th century society paints a vivid picture of the shared mindset towards blacks in the United States . I have found through research and personal experience, that what paralleled


5 the horrific racial history in the United States were the picture s and imagery that justified these action s. M any of the racist archetypes served to dehumanize black people in order to promote the idea of racial inferiority in blacks as well as reinforcing the ideas of white supremacy. Archetypes of the early twentieth century such as the blackface , and sambo served to trivialize and dehumanize African American men . The blackface image was popular in theater, where a white man colored his face black with shoe polish and painted his lips bright red. The Sambo was a similarly characterized representation of th e black male in literature. These depictions show the black man as an animalist figure who would follow their basic primal impulses if not kept in check. They were portrayed as lazy, buffoonish, and usually getting into some kind of trouble. There was often an emphasis on the sex ual nature of the impulses that caused the blackface trouble, especially in regards to white women. This was represented with great affect in the movie Birth of a Nation in 1915. The black male villain in the film was portraye d as a troublemaker who was always up to some sort of mischief. One of his final scenes depicts a man in blackface chasing a white woman , protagonist rushes to save her. In the end the heroic white man kills the black man before he h as a chance to ravage the innocent white woman. difficult after studying black c ulture and history in the United States, for me to not draw direct parallels between this imagery and current events. These images of black men along with the power of the cinema in the early 20 th century, helped to shape generations of social understanding of what to expect from black men and black culture


6 in general . The tone of these representations also reinforced the necessity for white men to be ever vigilante to keep the black man in check. Black women were also depicted in a negative fashion , through the archetypes of the mammy , jezebel , and sapphire , which society. The mammy epitomized the disempowered domestic ser vant. Her life was dedicated to serving her white family were cooking, cleaning and caring for the children of the house hold. Many of the visual representations of the mammy cued a person in on her maternal role . She was shown as a large, overweight and sexless woman. Her unsightly kink y hair would need to be covered by a bandanna. She was often pictured as having large breasts that she could use as the surrogate, nurturing children. Her strength and status as a house slave was emphasized in this role of dominance within the household ; she could keep the animalis tic black male in check. The S apphire and Jezebel were the other dominant image s used to portray black women. The J ezebel was characterized as a promiscuous woman who lacked moral values. Jezebel images were hyper sexualized in a way that would be tempting to white men and excuse any sexual indiscretions that might take place. These women also had a unique r e lationship with the black male. Their role was to constantly bicker and emasculate them . The purpose of the Sapphire and Jezebel archetypes is clear i n the grand scheme of things. T hey serve to divide the bla ck male and female; to cause mistrust and animosity through constructed social roles . Their nature was represented as animalistic . T he idea of the black man and woman together was a futile prospect. The white woman has something to fear from the black woman as well, conside ring that


7 the Jezebel could be lurking around any corner to pull the honorable white male into unsolicited seduction. These images of black women bring the white man and woman together while reinforcing the futility as ha rmonious partners place would be serving the white family in the home. PERSISTANT IMAGERY Some believe that as time has gone on, these derogatory characterizations of blacks have faded into the past. I beli eve that rather than disappearing , these archetypes have simply changed their form. Main steam rap often paints an unrealistic and unattainable idea of black culture in America. It depicts the motivations of black m en as materialistic, simplistic, and sexist in nature. Money, cars and women are put forth as the highest motivation in life. Black women on the other hand are portrayed as the J ezebel . Once again the image of the black woman is shown to be at odds with her male counterparts. She is sexually promiscuo us and emasculating . While there are many musical artists promoting a positive image of African Americans, I find that a large percentage of what is put out and consumed serves a more de structive purpose. S tereotypes of the not so distant past continue to be ingrained in society. G angsta rap is mainstream and widely consumed by middle class white males who often make up a large portion of the criminal justice system. The U . S . criminal justice system h as been shown to disproportionately target African Americans . This targeting takes place as a result of personal prejudice and effects subjective racially biased decision making at every level. African Americans statistically take part in criminal behavi or at rates similar to other racial groups in the United States .


8 Black men however, make up a much larger percentage of prison inmates as well as those on probation and parole . I believe that stereotypical representations lead to the problems faced today perpetuating economic disparity, racial violence, and political division. There are many writers who focus on the subject of rap contemporary society. issues of race in society. I believe she clarifies many points about the negative effects of r a perspectives of African Americans . She has always stressed i deas of self responsibility while at the same time recognizing the certain propor tion of rap music for what it is; as a negative reflection of American society . spectacle. Besides the exploitation of these issues to attract audiences, a central motivation for highlighting gangsta rap continues to be the sensationalist drama of demonizing black youth culture in general and the contributions of young black men in particular. It is a contemporary remake of "Bir th of a Nation" only this time we are encouraged to believe it is not just vulnerable white womanhood that risks destruction by black hands but everyone. When I counter this demonization of black males by insisting that gangsta rap does not appear in a cul tural vacuum, but, rather, is expressive of the cultural crossing, mixings, and engagement of black youth culture with the values, attitudes, and concerns of the white majority, Belle Hooks


9 A very strong foundation has been lai d pe rpetuating this negative view of African Americans. The archetypes of the past as well as their modern equivalents do not accurately show what is to be a black man or woman. Modern representations of past archetypes appropriate image ry from the past in a way that is destructive and self perpetuating. The stereotypical imagery put forth in this portion of rap music play s into the negative aspects of humanity while assigning ownership to black culture . These characterizations have led to a climate wh ere deadly consequences have become a norm for black Americans . POLICE SHOOTINGS We live in a time where there is more information avail able to every single person than there has ever been in the history of mankind. With the rise of smart phones p eople now have easy access to information . T here is more documentation than ever , of the social inequalities in society often including racially motivated violence against African Americans. It takes a certain level of apathy to see the injustices of society a nd not be motivated to call it what it is. I believe that the engrained stereotypes that are has led to a population that is largely indifferent to t his or other unequal treatment . White privilege allows for the rationalization that the problems in the black community are somehow products of their own construction. That if they only worked harder, or changed something they are doing, their situation would be improved. I believe that we can never move forward on these issues with an apathetic, silent majority, that enable s the oppression of the minority.


10 Current events have driven the focus of my research to the topic of police violence against African American males. It seems t hat in recent years there have been many high profile cases where black men have been killed under questionable circumstances. These incidences have been compounded by the frequency of cases that occur . Mike Brown in Fergusson, Eric Garner in New York, a nd James Crawford III in Ohio are three of the high profile cases involving the death of unarmed black men at the hands of the police that have influenced my thesis project. Michael Brown Michael Brown was a recent graduate from high school and was going to be starting college soon. He had no criminal record. On the day he was shot he was walking down the street with his friend when police officer Daren Wilson told them to get out of the street. There are varying accounts of what took place after this i nitial interaction, but the confrontation ended with the shooting death of Mike Brown with his body lying in the street for hours before being removed. Wilson did not come forward with his side of the story for over a month after the shooting took place. His story painted a picture of a young man with a death wish. He claimed that Brown attacked him while he was in his car and then tried to take his gun. After shooting Brown to stop him from taking his gun, Brown started to run away as Wilson left his po lice car. After running away from Wilson, Brown supposedly turned around and charged at Wilson again. Wilson, fearing for his life shot Brown dead in self defense. There is no way for Mike Brown to tell his side of the story since he was killed in the sh ooting. There are however, conflicting reports from witnesses to the shooting that


11 tell a much different story. Some of the alternate reports said that Wilson shoved the car door into Brown and then tried to drag him into the car. After a struggle, Mike Brown and his friend ran away from Wilson while he was shooting at them. After being shot at, witnesses reported that Brown turned around and raised his hands to surrender, only to be fatally shot dead in the street. These conflicting stories make it somewhat hard to decide what exactly happened the day that Mike B rown was killed. The conflicting witness reports further confuse the details of what happened as well. The facts of the autopsy as well as the evidence at the scene do help to clarify some of the information involving the shooting. Brown was killed 150 feet away from the police cruiser. None of the bullet wounds that hit B rown where in the back. Photo evidence showed little to no injuries to O fficer Wilson. Based on these facts, there a re certain conclusions that I can come to. Even though there were no bullet wounds in Mike Browns back, it is still possible that Wilson fired shots as he was running away and missed. It is also very telling as to where Brown was when he was fatally shot , 150 feet away from the car, rather tha n the 35 feet t hat was originally reported by O fficer Wilson. The distance that Mike Brown was at in relation to Wilson diminishes the credibility of report that he killed Michael Brown in self defense. An unarmed man at that distance poses little threat to a trained police officer. is the idea that a wounded Brown who was running away, would suddenly decide to turn and charge an armed police officer. It seems much more likely to me th a t, as other witnesses reported, Brown turned to surrender and was then continually shot at until he was killed.


12 The way the situation was handled after the death of Brown further shed light on the way the shooting was systemically handled from the bottom u p. As mentioned before, the body lying in the street for hours showed a complete lack of sensitivity for for over a week even with widespread public outcries to name Br peaceful protests in Fergusson were met with hostility from a militarized police force that shot tear gas into crowds of protesters. An out of control police officer was also seen on video pointing fire arms at reporters and telling where Brown allegedly stole a pack of cigars from a convenient store and pushed a store clerk. It was also later reve a led system. From a subjective point of view the police did everything in their power to attack the character of Mike Brown while protecting Daren Wilson in every way possible. The saddest part of this story was the fact that the grand jury decided to not even indict Daren Wilson so that there could be a trial to decide if any wrongdoing took place in the case. Before a trial could take place Wilson was cleared of any wrongdoing in the shooting death of Mike Brown. Eric Garner The case of Eric Garner being killed in the presents what I am saying in an even more cut and dry case of a black man being murdered by police. Garner was reported to have just broken up a fight, for which the police originally responding to . He was reportedly selling untaxed cigarettes when the police attempted to take him into custody. Garner, showing frustration for the situation stepped back in a non threatening


13 manner before being jumped on by police. Officer Daniel Pante lio put him into a banned chokehold to bring him to the ground where he was held until his death. Garner was caught on video repeatedly saying that he could not breath e as the police told him to stop resisting. Th e cause of death was the choke hold that h e was placed into as well the rest of their lives without him because of the crime of selling untaxed cigarettes. Once again this clear case of police murdering an unarmed man resulted in no indictment of the police officers in question. The message became clearer at this point that if you are a black man in America your life has little value to society. I find that this case clearly shows the lack of worth a blac k man has to a certain part of the police community. Showing respect and restraint for Garner could have easily resolved this situation in a peaceful manner. He was not charging them or being hostile in any way. I think of the countless cases of white p eople being pulled over by the police, shouting, spitting or even pointing gun, which ended with non fatal outcomes. It comes back to the fact that the police officers involved did not value the man enough to calmly defuse the situation. Instead, the jum ped him like wild dogs attacking their prey and ended his life prematurely. James Crawford III The last high profile case that I researched was the shoot ing death of James Crawford III, which took place in an Ohio Wal Mart. This is a case of a man being murdered while doing nothing wrong. Crawford was shopping in a local Wal Mart for a pellet gu n that he was going to purchase. He was talking on the phone with his dad when he was shot in the back by a police officer and killed. There had been a customer


14 in the store that called the police to report a man with a g un. He was quoted as saying, an AR15 at people in the store. After the shooting death of Crawford, his girl friend was interrogated and threatened with jail time if she lied to the police. Once again a grand jury neglected to indict the officer involved in the shooting. These three very public cases illustrate the systematic problems in our society and the dang er involved in simply being a black man in America, whether guilty or innocent. I believe that these cases illustrate the lack of value for the lives of black men, who in these three shootings were deemed unworthy of even going to trial. Sadly these prob lems go back as far as one cares to look in the United States starting with the more obvious atrocities that took place during slavery and later on in the Jim Crow south. PERCEPTIONS THROUGHOUT HISTORY While considering the cause the racial problems in soc the long history or racism and discrimination in this count r y. The United States was founded on slavery, with the mindset of blacks being mentally inferior to whites. It was ck s for their own good. Black people were property similar to cattle to be bought and sold as such. Abraham Lincoln, with the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in 1863. The struggle for the meaningful freeing of slaves would continue for much long er. Jim Crow laws replaced slavery as a method of oppression, and long after integration African Americans were subject to socially acceptable discrimination. The battle for justice continues today as affirmative action and other progress of the last cen tury continue to be fought through legislation.


15 ARTIST INFLUENCES has affected the current state of society. She is well known for her black cutout silhouettes that use light to incorporate the observers shadow into the work. This serves to place the viewer within the composition she creates. Much of the imagery directly references the racist archetypes of the 20 th century and unapologetically examines the racial history in the United States. Walker does not like to be categorized, as angry black woman complaining about the past, but is rather interested examining her station in society and how it relates to the in escapable racial history. She recognizes the challenge of dealing with these difficult topics as they can have the affect of automatically turning people off. Controversial or difficult works of art are often criticized without accurate description. The act of describing slows the rush to judgment, deepens the engagement with the artwork, and gives space for emotions and questions to arise. A full description addresses the people, places, and events in the work; the material from which it is made; and how the artist addresses the subject matter through the medium. Description helps us form interpretations and judgments Kara Walker Russell Biles is a contemporary ceram ic artist dealing with issues of race and politics. Hi s work is interesting because he often takes the path of communicating these challenging ideas through humor. His work is reminiscent of political cartoons, in that they are designed to convey a social or political message. His method of rendering the


16 f igures also lends to this comparison, due to the often exaggerate d proportions of the features. He has explored the idea of the racial divide in the United States exemplified with P resident Obama. In a satirical figure h e literally divides president Obam likeness down the middle with one side of the figure painted black and the other painted white. He satirically talks about the racial climate along with commenting on the racial dynamic involving the president . The article on Biles work in states that oftentimes viewers believe him to be a n African American artist due t o the way he represents his ideas. His exploration of race is confrontational and direct while also maintaining a sense of humor. Kyle and Ke lly Phelps deal with issues of race and inequity in a way that is much more inclusive of other minority groups . They take the focus away from race and look at the role socioeconomics plays in social inequality . What I enjoy about their work is that it fo cuses on storytelling though art to express ideas of widespread societal inequity in our country. Through their work they show the underclass and often minority factory workers as those exploited in t , a triptych , they setup references to religious triptychs of the past; however, a male and a female worker tell the story. They appear on either side and in the middle, the cast hands of a real factory worker present the items that they produce. Roberto L ugo is an artist who has worked in graffiti art as well as in ceramics. His art work is relevant to the work I because of the social engagement that h e intends. He has also dealt with activism as have I, by using funding to expunge the records of minor ity children with criminal records. Ultimately his


17 work seeks to create positive change by encouraging a dialog. The philosophy of his work involving philanthropy is exemplified through the writing of Cornell West , who writes about inequity as well as the need to strive for social justice. leave the world a little better than you found it. We need the courage to question the powers that be, the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people, the courage to fight for social justice. In many instances we will be stepping out on nothing, and just hoping to land on something. But that's the struggle. To live is to wrest le with despair, yet never allow despair to have Cornell West PROJECT The Sowing is a visual representation of my research concepts and the personal conclusions found within. The issues faced in contemporary society by African America ns are wide in scope. They are deep ly rooted in the history of slavery, Jim C row laws, and segregation . The wide spread beliefs about black men and women of those periods helped to shape the perceptions of what it is to be African American today. The imagery cited previously was used to reinforce those ideas. society is the extension of the atrocities of the past as well as the consequences of them .


18 Through the use of 7 ceramic figures I create a mic rocosm of modern day society. People from all walks of life are present ed in this bod y of work from the blue collar worker to the career politician. All of the sculpted figures are interconnected through placement, posture and narrative meaning. A ll play a role in what is need ed for positive change moving forward or maintaining the status quo . The Sowing presents a sculpted child bust: three times life scale that looks forward into a figure grouping arranged in a triangular composition. This figure faces for war d confronting six adult fig ures. C hildren are the seeds of our collective future and the child in the grouping repre sents the future and all of its possibilities. His importance in relation to the other figures is emphasized through the use of scale as well as relational placement to the figures. His facial expression is that of innocent wonder ; t abula r asa , a blank slate . The wonder present ed he look s forward into figures represents the world he will grow up in. Figures sculpted to represent apathy are placed in the center row, and positioned as barriers between the child figure and the problems and potential future he will face . These are the actors who will maintain or deconstruc t the systemic problems caused by racism and ine quality. The figures are largely passive in pose, are seated and have


19 distorted proportions . They are sculpted with life sized heads ; however, their bodies that taper down in scale attach to feet that would not support them if they chose to stand. Metaphorically, their proportions repr esent their apathetic mindset exemplified by an inability to either speak, or listen or see the problems faced by the child. He who will not listen represents the blue collar workin g class man. This man has grown up in a time long after the civil rights movement and has little connection to African Americans outside of what he sees on television. She who will not see represents an upper middle class woman who is very content with her place in society. She looks up with eyes closed oblivious to what faces the child behind her. White privilege and her place in society shield her from the uncomfortable realities of those who surro und her. He who will not speak is an African American man who has attained a higher place in the societal hierarchy. refuses to speak, either due to indifference or fear of what he might have to lose. The last row of the figures placed at the rear of the triangul ar formation is representative of the problems that will be faced by the child in his life. The Seducer is shown as a modern day rap star, with baggy cloth e s and jewelry. At first glance he appears to be a black man, but in upon closer inspection this figure is a white man in


20 blackface. This figure represents the idea of black culture to be commoditized and consumed by the masses. His seductive lifestyle serves to draw in black youth to fo llow the materialistic, unattainable lifestyle that he represents. He also symbolizes a negative picture of black culture that is in line with the archetypes of the past. The figure is visually tied to the others by representing him as a white man in bla ck face. The Destroyer represents the violence towards African Americans in society. He is depicted as a police officer in an aggressive pose pointing a gun that is ready to fire. He stands with his mouth open in anger serving as the judge, jury and executioner. He is the metaphorical representation of all of the anger and hostility that the child will face . The D estroyer is the result of the historical racism in society as well as the negative imagery that is perpetuated in popular culture. Michelle Alexander has written at great lengths about how the criminal justice system disproportionately targets people of color in The New Jim Crow . laws, institutions, and practices ranging from racial profiling to biased sentencing policies, political disenfranchisement, and legalized employment discrimination trap African Americans in a virtual (and literal) cage Michelle Alexander The Reaping personifies the tragic future o f what the child will have to endure if positive change does not take place . He metaphorically represents the psychological state of what being African American in the United States can be. He stands in a


21 classical pose, nude, aside from a worn bulletpro of vest meant to protect him. possible that the child will never personally be estroyer family member or friend will be. CONCLUS ION Through my research I have come to believe that lingering racism and societal inequity permeates every facet of society. Today we are reaping the seeds that were sown long ago. In order to facilitate positive change moving forward, we must first acknowledge the past and recognize how this histo ry in our culture effects our present. Everyone must play an active role in being a part of the solution. We must move forward together. BIOGRAPHY Nathan Murray grew up in Nebraska, where he received his BFA with a concentration in ceramic sculpture from the University of Nebraska Lincoln. He spent time working independently in the arts before deciding to continue with graduate study. Nathan is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Florida. Nathan's work utilizes ceramics and conceptually focu ses on the challenging issues faced in contemporary society involving identity, race and politics. These societal issues are personally relevant to him, due to the experience of growing up as a person of color in a society still dealing with the problems of inequality and racial disparity. in the viewer and for the work to become a starting point for people to engage in the discourse required to move


22 forward. Naturally, all artistic work is a reflection of the artist; therefore, Nathan's work often becomes introspective and self exploratory in nature. Art becomes a vehicle for TECHNICAL APPE NDIX techniques. Hand building and press mold methods were used to create the figure Who Will these cast heads were hand built and sculpted using low fire white sculpture clay body , fired in electric kilns . All figures were surfaced using acrylic washes; layered to created a watercolor a esthetic . Minimal color and a washed out color pallet was us ed to set the tone for the grouping. Sandpaper was used to age the work . This distressed and aged surface representing the long history of the societal problems being explored through the work. A matte sealer was used to unify and add depth to the painted surface.


23 BIBLIOGRAPHY Haris, H. D. (February 27, 2006) Colored Pictures: Race and Visual Representation . University of North Carolina Press. Hooks, B. (1999). Yearning: Race Gender and Cultural Politics . South End Press. West, C, Alexander, M. (January 16 th , 2012) The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Col orblindness . New Press, The.