Art critic speaks on relation between art, race, debt

Kristine Liao, Reporter

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Art critic Yates McKee stressed the contribution of contemporary art to social movements such as Black Lives Matter during a talk Wednesday.

Additionally, he discussed a connection between art and the decolonization of debt resistance. More than 70 people attended the event at Harris Hall, which was sponsored by the Art History department and was part of the Kaplan Institute’s “The Debt Dialogues” series.

McKee kicked off the series with 13 more events planned for the rest of the year. He discussed his book, “Strike Art,” which focuses on the relation between activism and contemporary art. The book describes how groups like Rolling Jubilee, a debt abolishment group, used art to affect the Occupy Wall Street movement.

“Any understanding of contemporary art and any understanding of debt or debt resistance takes place in a field that is indelibly marked by what you could call the truth event of Black Lives Matter,” McKee said.

McKee used examples in popular culture such as Beyonce’s “Lemonade” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” music video to convey his message of the linkage between art and activism.

“The debtor-creditor relationship comes to take on a new prominence and power that’s articulated with the race relation,” he said. “It’s debt in terms of wanting to have an education, health care … but it’s also the historic debt of the whole history of white supremacy, slavery and colonization.”

Communication senior Jesseca Rodgers attended the event for her Introduction to Modernism art history course and said the presentation was “really eye-opening.”

“I knew basically what he was going to be talking about beforehand, but I didn’t really get how it was all going to fit together like it did,” she said. “It solidified and gave context to things I already felt about the Black Lives Matter movement, student debt and student loans.”

Medill senior Michael Stern, who is also taking Introduction to Modernism, said the presentation related to material he is learning in the course. He said he chose to attend McKee’s event because “it seemed really relevant to life today.”

“It was really interesting to learn about the intersection of art and these activist campaigns,” Stern said. “I had never really thought about that before, especially the music videos as a protest. Viewing those as performance art almost was an interesting idea.”

Email: kristineliao2020@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @kristine_liao

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