Tuesday, May 26, 2020
We are Happy: Vusi Beauchamp
We are Happy
Mixed media on Fabriano paper
TLC Extension Collection (South Africa)
Overview: In a style that curator Gordon Froud compares to street art graffiti, the words "WE ARE HAPPY" are scrawled across the image, atop four grimacing figures. ("WE ARE" is easy to read, while "HAPPY" is much more difficult to make out.) The three to the left appear to have skeletal bodies, the one of the far right has an open pink mouth reminiscent of colonial or Jim Craw racist 'blackface" iconography.
The dual vision of looking at events borth from the ‘inside’ and the ‘ouside’ ref;cts the way in which perception is shaped by the media and subsequently becomes reality, and affords the viewer a glimpse of contemporary local politics as well as lived experience in the urban jungle.
Mark Auslander : Ironically titled, "We are Happy", Vusi Beauchamp's work parodies a long history of colonial racial stereotyping and minstrel iconography that renders people of color as reveling even amidst tragedy. The grotesque allusions to Jim Crow imagery will be difficult for many to stomach, especially at a time when the global COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed a new wave of racism and xenophobia in some quarters. This may be the artist's point precisely, that the scourge of racial terror and ethnonationalist nativism has been let loose, once more, in our midst. The grimacing figures could thus be read as the fevered delusions of a resurgent global white supremacist imagination. Having resided in the Lansing, Michigan area during the recent anti-Lockdown protests, we were made all too aware of these connections as white marchers displayed Confederate flags, nooses, and automatic weapons, some declaring that the pandemic was of no concern to people like them, implying the primary victims were urban-dwelling people of color for whom they had no sense of compassion or solidarity. Today, 31 May 2020, as this painting is released, the world views televised images of mass violence in American cities, in the context of enormous public protests of police brutality. Much of this violence may be instigated by rightist white supremacist provocateurs, who seek to promote precisely the stereotypes of black people that Vusi's work caricatures.