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The Responsibility of Ancestral Memory

By Greg Angaza Pitts

Now that we are in the 21st century, and the system has once again officially declared open season on hunting the African-American man-child, closing our community's institutions, i.e., King-Drew Medical Center [in Los Angeles, CA], on the eve of rolling back the Voting Rights Act, and convincing everyone to buy into the illusion of inclusion, the question arises, where are the artists who still have their artistic finger on the political pulse of the people/community? In the era of the so-called Post-Black esthetic, where culture, ethnicity, and identity are rendered irrelevant, where are our artists continuing the tradition of such political and social commentary artists, as Ron Griffin, Olu Osei, Masud Kordofan, Noni Olabisi and others?

Enter Kamal Al Mansour, whose first solo exhibition titled We Cannot Forget at La Petite Gallery, answers this question. With the exception of a few pieces, the exhibition provides a strong introduction to Al Mansour's considerable talent. The artist has created a visual signature that skillfully merges his (computer) graphics, and fine art backgrounds, to articulate a political posture that is not visually overbearing. This is evident in a series of personal scale prints portraying revolutionaries and freedom fighters throughout the Diaspora. Each portrait contains high contrast color—areas (widely used in graphics) and visual—text relationships (used in both the graphic and fine art arenas). Together they perform a "visual libation," i.e., Toussaint L'Ouverture, Robeson, Steve Biko, Lumumba, Che, Truth, Franz Fanon, Machel, Fannie Lou Hamer, etc., that politically and spiritually energizes the gallery's environment. Their "sankofatized" presence establishes an island of sacred space in the gallery. These ancestors' collective presence reverberates the visual mantra that "We Cannot Forget"

A mixed media work on paper titled Someone Has To Pay, creates a compelling visual argument for reparations. At the top of this vertical work hovers a bubble-like form, which according to Al Mansour is a drop of blood. The weight and gravity pulling the bottom of the "one drop," is pregnant with imagery that references the emotional and psychological weight of our history in this country. Images of lynchings, enslaved Africans, the four girls bombed in a Birmingham church, and marchers down South being hosed, suggests that our blood stream carries the collective memory of our history. Under the drop, a bust view of a young African-American male with a "serious '60s" facial expression seems to confront and challenge the viewer. His beaded red, black and green necklace becomes a proactive mantle for kuchichagulia (self- determination) and taking personal responsibility for his/our liberation. In spite of this, the artist seems to suggest, that someone needs to be held responsible and accountable (reparations) for our 350 year disruption/interruption, and that We Cannot Forget

Al Mansour indicated that the "beauty of Black men" is celebrated in his exquisite pastel drawing titled Anointed. The drawing establishes a place for Black men to be exalted amidst a political climate where they're continually assaulted. It appears as though the artist took the hand/arm gestures from Alvin Alley's dance classic, Revelation, and rotated them from their horizontal axis to a vertical axis to create a field of hands lifted in high praise. By color coding the arms and hands according to their location and positioning, he approximates an arrangement of "human" birds of paradise, where an image of a Black man rests. We're reminded through his use of code and symbol, that Black men are continuously engaged in the process of spiritual ascension, while under the constant threat of character assassination. And that, We Cannot Forget

The artist eloquently summarizes his position in his Portals Series, by suggesting that there can be no political liberation without spiritual liberation. Al Mansour further suggests that liberation is an ongoing process of continuous rites of passages, in which we're always accountable to the ancestors and responsible to the youth and the unborn. For this, We Cannot Forget

Copyright © 2005 Greg Angaza Pitts