AN AMAZING PHOTOGRAPHIC SELF-PORTRAIT by Kia LaBeija covers the January issue of Artforum. LaBeija is a young African American artist who describes her practice as exploring “her personal narrative and the relationship between space, trauma, and the female body.”

David Velasco, the new editor of Artforum, says he saw LaBeija’s work for the first time a year ago when he was visiting with his boyfriend’s family in Chicago for the holidays. Her photographs were on view at “Art AIDS America,” a group exhibition that presented three decades of American art made in response to the HIV epidemic. In his editor’s letter, Velasco describes the installation of her work as “a wall of photographs by an artist I immediately needed to know.”

A native New Yorker raised in Hell’s Kitchen, LaBeija was born HIV-positive. The 27-year-old performance artist and celebrated Vogue dancer is a public speaker and HIV/AIDS advocate “for under represented communities living HIV positive including long term survivors, women, minorities and children born with the virus,” who has participated in programs at universities and museums.

Characterizing his introduction to the work of LaBeija as a “gift,” Velasco concludes his editor’s letter by further emphasizing its transformational affect on his outlook: “There is something marvelous and special about her self-portraits. Glamour dresses up the oldest wounds. She is an actress playing herself whole, and this somehow makes it so. I’ve spent a long time being weary of self-help and self-actualization, have acquired over the years a maybe unhealthy skepticism of transvaluation, of anything cathartic, really. I think I’m getting over that now.”

“There is something marvelous and special about [Kia LaBeija’s] self-portraits. Glamour dresses up the oldest wounds. She is an actress playing herself whole, and this somehow makes it so.” — David Valasco, Editor of Artforum

LABEIJA IS NOT THE TYPICAL Artforum cover artist. There are no solo exhibitions at important museums on her CV. She is not represented by a high-profile gallery. She hasn’t spurred international fascination or engendered the support of a major collector, influential curator, or powerful editor (until now). Neither is she white.

Since its founding in 1962, Artforum has published 558 issues and few have featured work by black artists on the cover. Only two months ago, “Black Unity,” a powerful clenched fist sculpture by Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012) graced the cover of the November 2017 issue, illustrating a review of the exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” published inside. But the historic tally for black women stands at just four—Ellen Gallagher (April 2004) and Kara Walker (April 2007), along with LaBeija and Catlett.

Black male artists have fared relatively better over the years in terms of solo cover appearances. Robert Colescott (1984); Seydou Keita, David Hammons (1998); Yinka Shonibare (2003); Glenn Ligon (2006); Barkley Hendricks (2009); Jack Whitten (2012); Terry Adkins (2014); William Pope.L (2015); Dread Scott (2016); and Kerry James Marshall (2017), have each taken their turn in the spotlight.

 


Clockwise, from top left, Barkley L. Hendricks | April 2009; Robert Colescott | March 1984; David Hammons | May 1998; Glenn Ligon | May 2006; Seydou Keita | February 1998; Jack Whitten | February 2012; Ellen Gallagher | April 2004; and Kara Walker | April 2007.

 

The past year has been monumental by comparison, with work by black artists covering three issues between January 2017 and January 2018. Throughout Artforum’s 55 years, however, the representation is paltry, with 15 covers featuring work by individual black artists. That’s just 2.69 percent.

Going forward, under new leadership, how will Artforum evolve on this front and in terms of its overarching editorial vision?

Going forward, under new leadership, how will Artforum evolve on this front and in terms of its overarching editorial vision?

THE JANUARY ISSUE of Artforum is the first under Valasco who joined the magazine in 2005 as an editorial assistant, rising to editor of artforum.com. “I had no connections, was broke and unworthy. I had all the wrong education and just some hot faith in art,” he writes.

Valasco was appointed editor of the print publication in November after Knight Landesman, a long-serving co-publisher resigned in the wake of sexual harassment allegations, and Michelle Kuo, who was editor at the time, stepped down citing her inability to continue representing the organization given the circumstances.

Assuming the helm of publication, the most prestigious and critically regarded arm of the franchise which is bursting with page after page of pricey adverstisments, Valasco indicates change in the editor’s suite as well as the product: “I am lucky in these times to be among brilliant people who know the uses and limits of anger, staff and colleagues in whom I believe, who inspire in their intelligence and bravery and desire to do right by others and to find new ways to be and to organize power. We’re still figuring things out at Artforum, as one sad man I once knew goes off, faces a fate of his own making. I don’t yet know how this future ‘us’ is supposed to look. But we will listen, and we will try, and when we mess up we’ll be in the mess together.”

“I am lucky in these times to be among brilliant people who know the uses and limits of anger, staff and colleagues in whom I believe, who inspire in their intelligence and bravery and desire to do right by others and to find new ways to be and to organize power.” — David Valasco, Editor of Artforum

He continues: I wanted in this issue, my first as editor, to hear from artists and writers what they make of power. How do they use, without abusing, power when they have it. I wanted to recall the potent combative and curative forces of representation, to identify techniques for showing the world a better idea about what it should be.”

THE ISSUE EXPLORES the uses of power with a compelling mix of articles written and illustrated by artists.
Multidisciplinary artist Azikiwe Mohammed talks to author Claudia Rankine about his ongoing project “With Love: Immy’s Thrift of New Davonhaime.” Reimagining “historical incongruities,” the installation is a fictional thrift store envisioned as a safe space for people of color. Artist projects by Sable Elyse Smith, House of Ladasha and Adrian Piper, among others, are published. Piper contributes examples from her “My Calling (Card)” series, an ongoing performance first introduced in 1986 as “a passive-aggressive approach to showcase how racism and sexism are intrinsically harmful.” Art historians Molly Nesbit and Ewa Lajer-Burcharth pay tribute to feminist art historian Linda Nochlin (1931-2017), who died in October. Nochlin published a 1971 essay titled “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” in ARTnews.

A captivating portfolio of self-portraits by LaBeija is also included in the issue. The images are moving. With five photographs and a few words she reveals closely held details of her life experience and develops an incredible narrative arc—one of loss, vulnerability, family pride, and pushing through.

With five photographs and a few words Kia LaBeija reveals closely held details of her experience and develops an incredible narrative arc—one of loss, vulnerability, family pride, and pushing through.

This reader cosigns Valasco’s outsized response to LaBeija’s work and with cautious optimism wonders what’s next. What’s on the horizon in forthcoming issues? Jerry Saltz of New York magazine recently wrote about the Artforum’s history, disposition, and relevance over the years. He loves the new Artforum.

“I haven’t felt this way about this magazine in a long long time. As of today Artforum is no longer a lost cause or a dream anymore. It may be the real thing.” CT

 

IMAGE: Kia LaBeija, “Untitled,” 2017 (ink-jet print). | Artforum, January 2018

 

VISIT Kia LeBeija’s website

 


From left, KERRY JAMES MARSHALL, “Untitled (detail),” 2008 (acrylic on PVC panel, 72 3/4 × 61 1/4″). | Artforum, January 2017; ELIZABETH CATLETT, “Black Unity,” 1968 (mahogany, 20 1/4 × 22 1/2 × 12 1/2″). | Artforum, November 2017.

 

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