André Ramos-Woodard layers images of contemporary Blackness over harmful, historical illustrations of Black people, in an act of reclamation. His mural, “Air Gerald” is showcased in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
“I was taking these characters that were meant to be detrimental to the reality of Blackness and putting them up against these photographs that I was taking, about my Black experience, with my Black hands,” Ramos-Woodard said.
The mural depicts a minstrel character drawn in the 1940s losing at basketball to a more contemporary representation of a Black character, Gerald from the 90s cartoon, “Hey Arnold.”
“In the reality of Blackness, that is not real. These are accentuated features, these crazy lips and this overly dark skin is just an exaggeration, it’s a negative exaggeration of Blackness, and so he needs to lose,” Ramos-Woodard said.
Ramos-Woodard said that he was shocked at how quickly he found racist imagery in his research and by the lack of ownership over the harmful caricatures.
“I’m thinking very critically about the ways that we have been represented as Black people in history and the ways that I want to be represented as a Black person,” Ramos-Woodard said. “I can’t speak for all black people, right? But I can, at the very least, talk about authentic Blackness because I am authentically black.”
“Air Gerald” is one of many pieces in Ramos-Woddard’s series, “Black SNAFU,” a project he first started in graduate school while researching the history of drawing and photography.
“’Black SNAFU’ comes from looking into that history and also being disappointed by the fact that it’s been swept under the rug and pretend like it never happened for so long. People aren’t claiming these caricatures and the repercussions that have happened to Black people have been just dismissed by white supremacy and colonialism.”
“The more images I made as a Black person, the harder it got to look at just racist depictions of Blackness. So, I started thinking about contemporary depictions of Blackness and the Black cartoon characters that I grew up with that meant a lot to me, and the ones that mean a lot to me now.”
“I would have never imagined that you could walk into an institution like a museum and see my work like that. It feels way too good to be true.”