I visited the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, and was particularly interested in a painting titled Private Africa by the artist Vernon Fisher. The painting was done in 1995 and its medium is oil on blackboard slating on wood. Vernon Fisher is a Texas artist. Born in 1943, he has plied his trade as an artist for over forty years. His areas of specialty are pop culture, conceptual art, mass media, zeitgeist, art, history and culture. Very often his work is presented in multilayered pictures that to the non- discerning eye would seem ambiguous. He describes his work as abstract.
So what is interesting about the painting Private Africa? In the painting, Fisher is portraying the plundering of Africa for private gain by both internal and external parties- slave traders, colonial governments, foreign armies, large conglomerates and multinationals. These entities pillage Africa for private benefit oblivious of the impact on the natives. This happened in the past; and it is still happening now. Fisher marks out the rivers in red to signify the blood of the native population that is shed as a consequence of the pillage. It is interesting to see how the bloodied rivers on the map are also serving the dual purpose of giving Africa the appearance of being tied up/ bonded. The narrative in the painting could have applied accurately to Africa in the eighteenth, nineteenth or even twentieth century; it could easily apply as well today. It could apply to Africans living on the continent then and now; or it could also accurately apply to Africans and people of African descent living in the diaspora today.
The subject of this painting applies to our discussions in class because of the painting’s allusion to the Trans Atlantic slave trade between Africa and The New World. About 44% of the slaves taken from Africa came from the regions of West Central Africa and Southeastern Africa shown in the painting. The descendants of these slaves are part of the African American population in our country today. They are center stage in our class discussions about race relations, and what it means to be a person of color in America.
In a way, the themes of Vernon Fisher’s painting still apply to the African- Americans population in the modern era. They have been the subject of unethical medical experiments run by the Federal Government. They have been exploited for private gain by financial institutions with predatory lending practices. Their blood has been spilled needlessly by law enforcement officers across the country. These are all topics that have been touched on and analyzed in our class discussions. The painting can be summarized as describing to a large extent the black man/ woman’s experience then, and now.
Many may not have heard the name Vernon Fisher, but he is one of the most influential to come from Texas. Here is Fisher talking about his work, and how he gets his inspiration for his paintings. Watch Vernon Fisher
Video of Vernon Fisher from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cM1h8A28rwo
Image of Private Africa from http://www.themodern.org/collection/Private-Africa/1021