SF MOMA Gallery at Fort Mason, 2018 Froelick Gallery, 2018
Clark College, 2019
Rice Polak Gallery, 2019, 2020
The nodder doll (bobble head) black, picaninny banks, made of ceramic and chalk were manufactured in the Japan in the 1950's, marketed and sold to white America as a novelty, a souvenir; characterized today as Black Americana. With this exhibition, I defiantly reclaim, re-present and ornately embellish them; to elevate and celebrate their beauty from the ill-conceived form of degradation they originally were created to represent. My attempt is create multimedia assemblage and paintings as the dolls become a trumpet or a mouth piece, speaking to the subversive nature of racism in the past and present.
The inspiration for this work started as I began to think of all the American "fixes" or backlashes; the reversal or interruption of progress ( from subtle to overt) to the official ending of slavery in the United States on June 19th, 1865 (Juneteenth). The election of the 45th President could possibly be one of the most prominent "fixes"/backlashes or interruptions to date.
The assemblages sit proudly beside large-scale figurative portrait-like paintings on canvas and wood panel. The work suggests the pieces could be living, breathing modern day adult manifestations of today's Black woman as they reclaim certain stereotypes. The 1950s nodder doll clutched fruits such as the banana/ apple or watermelon for pure disrespectful, stereotypical comic relief. These fruits became disrespectful because many southern whites, feeling threatened by progress, placed derogatory references to these fruits: ( the watermelon; lazy, shiftless, unwanted; the banana; blacks as simians, monkeys or apes). What does the modern day Black woman clutch/embrace as symbolic of today's real-life issues or struggles? Are they objects to be adored or feared?
This work is my attempt to respond to the fact that the black woman, who practically raised America in up to the 20th Century can proudly say, " I am no longer your mammy!" The work responds to gender and racial dehumanization, mass incarceration and gun violence; it responds to the fact that black women in her resilience to all the challenges, came out in droves to help a democrat win an election in the divisive Alabama election in 2017. She is a woman who loves America more than it loves her. Through layered satire, this body of work suggests that mainstream America see beyond a monolithic group. "She," the metaphorical black woman, is neither a child, nor a toy, but rather a soul who should be honored respected adorned and treasured.
From mantle, to magazine cover, to boardroom, to branches of government, to First Lady, the Black woman has evolved to more than a novelty. Her beauty, images and strength transport us from nodder doll, to a living, breathing representation of contemporary beauty.
As I reclaim and represent the dolls, some of the insulting and degrading fruits they clutch become symbols of liberation. The apple becomes a fruit of knowledge, while banana instead of a reference to blacks being reduced to simians, becomes a symbol of essential life, fertility and love. However, the illusive watermelon has an interesting history. Free black people grew, ate, and sold watermelons, and in doing so made the fruit a symbol of their freedom.
Southern whites, threatened by blacks’ new found freedom, responded by making the fruit a symbol of black people’s perceived uncleanliness, laziness, childishness, and unwanted public presence. This stereotype continues to have a bittersweet aftertaste; as it represents the American machine of racism. Some of the compositions suggest/depict inner strength, resilience as she is “getting it done,” surviving, in the midst of all the racial baggage she, the Black woman carries. This work attempts to invoke the notion to look beyond the stereotype to see and embrace the beauty of the hue and see the value in the woman of color as she maneuvers through living and surviving in a racist 21st century world.
Willie Little www.willielittle.com @willielittleart
Willie Little is a Black artist and storyteller from North Carolina who currently splits his time between Oakland, CA and Portland Oregon.