Antwaun Sargent understands what the relationship with beauty, art and identity encompasses. By this, I mean he is a writer and critic who is co-curating his first art exhibition at Aperture New York while also developing an art inspired fashion project with a major brand. It is obvious that Antwaun understands the importance of aesthetics both online and off. It is evident in his recent Surface Magazine cover story of the artist and singer, Solange Knowles, his contributions to the New Yorker, museum publications, and within every composition he shares on Instagram. “I have always been interested in art, fashion and writing,” he told me, recently. “I never thought I could turn those interests into a life, I thought I’d be a lawyer.” The writer who will be giving a talk about art at Harvard Law School later this month, says, “I think I’ve been able to do that by thinking critically about the way I occupy digital and real space and making sure I am not misrepresenting who I am in either, culturally or politically.”
In a time where social media consist of the overuse of airbrush applications, culture is challenging who gets represented and how. It is refreshing to see Antwaun’s work- both the written and visual- challenge the ways we participate in online platforms and physical institutions like magazines and museums. He uses writing and art as an opportunity to question contemporary culture, by imbuing his own identity within on the page and the images he shares online: be it an exhibition, a picture snapped in a Moroccan riad or a recent feature on the artist Deborah Roberts or the gallerist Mariane Ibrahim. Identity informs the composition and he finds a way to bring his aesthetic to life within every space he embodies.
It’s refreshing to experience a person online persona and know that with every work or image contains a consideration of self: his politics, followers, words- the people who think differently, and at the same time, honoring his personal identity within the grasp of the Internet’s algorithms. “I’m very interested in the power of black art, the power of black images, my own images but also in the possibility of painting, sculpture, photography and fashion complicating and extending black culture and its narratives.” The power of art is apparent in the construction of his feed where he shares works by black artists such as Barkley Hendricks, Mickalene Thomas and Awol Erizku alongside shots of himself. In the images there’s a sense of color theory, composition and blackness that so effortlessly translates in the images that speak to the politics and history of representation and the fashioning of identity.
Art is an institution that has historically managed to marginalized black voices. So who is subverting and challenging the institution while still finding a way to exist within them? “The photographer Ayana V. Jackson told me recently, “We have to fight photography with photography,” which is to say, to change art and the stories it has told about blackness you have to use its mediums,” says Sargent. “It’s something the painter Kerry James Marshall talk about a lot, and I think a group of emerging artists like Sable Elyse Smith, curators like Rujeko Hockley and fashion designers like Grace Wales Bonner are working towards. These artists, curators and fashion designers are using black creativity to ask and answer questions around imaging blackness in personal ways, in cultural ways and political ways.”
Much of how Antwaun writes and approaches art is with the realization that the artist voice must be privileged. He recently attended the unveiling of the Obamas presidential portraits, painted by Amy Sherald and Wiley respectively. In an essay he notes that it is the first time in history of American political power, we honoring in the halls of history someone other than wealthy white men. It is a change that speaks beyond the walls of the national gallery and provide a glimpse into the ways both art and society is progressing.
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