ANDRE WOOLERY - The Improper Noun
IMPROPER NOUN, 2017
Oil Paint + LED light
Dimensions: 16" x 20" each
"Language is an interactive phenomenon" - Charles Goodwin
This project started as an exploration of the "N word", in all its formats, as a playground for Blackness. It has remained bound to Black people and now is property that we 'own' so what comes from that interactive exercise?
Using colored lighting, the artist repeatedly places viewers on opposing sides of the word. This process is meant to force us to reconcile the space in between the word's pronunciation, spelling, meaning and contexts.
In an exploration of Blackness, the N-word is debated territory. Historically, the word was forced on Black property and now it has become Black property. What could this word reveal about Blackness? By triangulating the word's multiple contexts, it's meaning to our existence may show itself.
The historical context of nigger was used for White supremacy against Black existence. The current context of nigga is used by Black people to connect Black existence. We have generationally altered its spelling, pronunciation, and varieties of context. Right or wrong, the control has shifted from a Blackness that was in opposition to White power and now it represents a Blackness that aims to control its own power on its own terms. The tense interaction around the N-word shows how the two worlds of Blackness overlap and are in constant motion, just like in the artwork.
The N-word isn’t static. If language is an interactive phenomenon that reveals how we create our societal world, this word is a pinball in the machine. It has been morphed, remixed, censored, banned, discussed, sung, rapped, hated, and loved. In these interactions, ownership has transitioned from White to Black people shaping its context.
The word exists in a transitory state that spans a wide spectrum that the art needed to reflect. The "lighted" artwork projects a colored perspective and makes the other side of Blackness more prominent. It emerges when you saturate one perspective. In a world of Niggas, Niggers appear. In a world of Niggers, Niggas appear. It’s an interesting paradox that illustrates that our identity isn’t fixed or situated in one place. The N-word lacks stability and so does Blackness, it changes from moment to moment. History stands firm while the present is in constant evolution. This is what the art process revealed. A word being held captive by notions of Black identity, when Black identity cannot be held captive by a word.