Continuing the Conversation: How Will Art Solve Problems?

Kameelah Janan Rasheed leads Agora, How Will Art Solve Problems?, Wednesday July 6, 2016.
Photo: Manuel Martagon. © 2016 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

As part of the July 6 Agora series, I had the privilege of hosting a conversation with attendees addressing the question: How Will Art Solve Problems?

Understanding the role art plays in solving problems prompts us to consider the parameters we use to define problems, the metrics we use to assess whether a problem is solved, and the elasticity of the boundaries around what we consider “art.” The word “will” places us in the context of futurity and possibility. Given the litany of problems at global, national, and local levels, many of us long for a future that is remarkably better than the past and the present space we experience quite viscerally. We may be suspended in a state of contemplation about the future tense, or a not-yet-happened state. Indeed, this future is tense.

The role art plays in transitioning into the future and the content of this future was rigorously discussed during our Agora session. Many of the participants acknowledged the aesthetic importance of art, but could not divorce the this from acknowledging art as a tool to raise awareness, to uncover marginalized histories, and to provide space to imagine other ways the future can unfold.

Below are a set of framing texts that have shaped my understanding on the intersections between art, futurity, and justice.

“Positive Obsession” from Bloodchild and Other Stories
By Octavia Butler (Seven Stories Press, 1995)

“Vision & Justice”
By Sarah Lewis (Aperture, Summer 2016)

A Circle of Blood: Jack Whitten on Art in Times of Unspeakable Violence
By Jack Whitten (Walker Magazine, December 3, 2015)

The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness
By Kevin Young (Graywolf Press, 2012)

“The Radical Vision of Toni Morrison”
By Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah (The New York Times, April 8, 2015)

“What Exceeds the Hold?: An Interview with Christina Sharpe”
By Selamawit Terrefe (Rhizomes, Issue 29, 2016)

“David Scott”
By Stuart Hall (BOMB magazine, Winter 2005)

An Interview with Fred Moten, Part I and Part II
By Adam Fitzgerald (Literary Hub, August 5, 2015)

How Do Black Lives Matter in MoMA’s Collection?
By Thomas Lax (Inside/Out blog, July 9, 2016

Negro Building: Black Americans in the World of Fairs and Museums
By Mabel O. Wison (University of California Press, 2012)

Black Protest Writing, from W.E.B DuBois to Kendrick Lamar
By Precious Rasheeda Muhammad (Literary Hub, August 10, 2016)

These Brooklyn-Based Artists Are Building An Archive Of The Future For The African Diaspora
By Antoinette Isama (OkayAfrica, March 1, 2016)

Poor Meme, Rich Meme
By Aria Dean (Real Life, July 25, 2016)

W. E. B. Du Bois’s Modernist Data Visualizations of Black Life
By Allison Meier (Hyperallergic, July 4, 2016)