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Minstrel Kuik. Profile; Works; Exhibitions; Art Fairs; News; Artist CV. Minstrel Kuik (b. , Malaysia), is a Chinese Malaysian born in Pantai Remis in
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But monumentality, in the sense of power that demands public recognition, can also be achieved through sheer numbers and repeated multiplicity of forms. This was true of the tens of thousands of statues of Lenin that blanketed the Soviet Union at the time of its dissolution in It is true, too, of racist depictions of Black Americans that once formed a part of popular culture. Monuments rise and fall with regimes in power. When Ukraine passed laws in outlawing communist symbols, the country set a deadline for dismantling the remainder of the 5, Lenin statues erected in the Soviet period.

Right: Lenin statue in Bohodukhiv, Ukraine, Photos: Aljoscha. A small group of Lenin sculptures on display in the exhibition suggests how ubiquity creates monumentality. Cast in bronze, carved in wood, and baked in porcelain, these Lenins were borrowed from The Wende Museum in Culver City —where you can find dozens more Lenins that once graced Soviet homes and offices. Left: Bust of Vladimir Lenin, n. Right: Busts of Vladimir Lenin, ca. Photo: John Kiffe.

The Art Newspaper

In authoritarian governments, legislation and official directives can make sweeping changes to public thinking. In democracies, social perceptions can be harder to overturn.

When we asked Gates to participate in the exhibition with a work that would speak to the current national debate on Confederate monuments, he responded instantly by suggesting his sculpture Dancing Minstrel. But, he added, for the Getty exhibition the sculpture would not be—as originally mounted—towering twelve feet in the air. It would instead be lying dismantled on the ground. Now scattered in pieces across the white travertine floor of the Research Institute, this third-generation sculpture references a provocative and disturbing lineage in American history.

Created as an amusement to decorate parlors and entertain Americans of all ages, this small figure danced by means of an articulated body activated by a lever. Minstrel shows emerged as brief burlesques and comic entr'actes in the early s in the Northeastern states. They were developed into full-fledged form in the next decade.

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By , blackface minstrel shows were the national artform, translating formal art such as opera into popular terms for a general audience. By the turn of the 20th century, the minstrel show enjoyed but a shadow of its former popularity, having been replaced for the most part by vaudeville. The form survived as professional entertainment until about ; amateur performances continued until the s in high schools and local theaters.

The typical minstrel performance followed a three-act structure. The troupe first danced onto stage then exchanged wisecracks and sang songs. The second part featured a variety of entertainments, including the pun-filled stump speech. The final act consisted of a slapstick musical plantation skit or a send-up of a popular play. Minstrel songs and sketches featured several stock characters , most popularly the slave and the dandy. These were further divided into sub-archetypes such as the mammy , her counterpart the old darky , the provocative mulatto wench, and the black soldier.

Minstrels claimed that their songs and dances were authentically black, [5] although the extent of the black influence remains debated. Spirituals known as jubilees entered the repertoire in the s, marking the first undeniably black music to be used in minstrelsy. Blackface minstrelsy was the first theatrical form that was distinctly American.


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During the s and s at the height of its popularity, it was at the epicenter of the American music industry. For several decades, it provided the means through which American whites viewed black people. On the one hand, it had strong racist aspects; on the other, it afforded white Americans a singular and broad awareness of what some whites considered significant aspects of black culture in America. Although the minstrel shows were extremely popular, being "consistently packed with families from all walks of life and every ethnic group", [8] they were also controversial.

Integrationists decried them as falsely showing happy slaves while at the same time making fun of them; segregationists thought such shows were "disrespectful" of social norms as they portrayed runaway slaves with sympathy and would undermine the Southerners' " peculiar institution ". Minstrel shows were popular before slavery was abolished, sufficiently so that Frederick Douglass described blackface performers as " By the late 18th century, blackface characters began appearing on the American stage, usually as " servant " types whose roles did little more than provide some element of comic relief.

As a result, the blackface " Sambo " character came to supplant the " tall-tale-telling Yankee " and " frontiersman " character-types in popularity, [13] and white actors such as Charles Mathews , George Washington Dixon , and Edwin Forrest began to build reputations as blackface performers. Author Constance Rourke even claimed that Forrest's impression was so good he could fool blacks when he mingled with them in the streets. Thomas Dartmouth Rice 's successful song-and-dance number, " Jump Jim Crow ", brought blackface performance to a new level of prominence in the early s.

Blackface soon found a home in the taverns of New York's less respectable precincts of Lower Broadway , the Bowery , and Chatham Street. Theater was a participatory activity, and the lower classes came to dominate the playhouse. They threw things at actors or orchestras who performed unpopular material, [19] and rowdy audiences eventually prevented the Bowery Theatre from staging high drama at all. Meanwhile, at least some whites were interested in black song and dance by actual black performers.

Nineteenth-century New York slaves shingle danced for spare change on their days off, [22] and musicians played what they claimed to be " Negro music" on so-called black instruments like the banjo. Meanwhile, there had been several attempts at legitimate black stage performance, the most ambitious probably being New York's African Grove theater, founded and operated by free blacks in , with a repertoire drawing heavily on Shakespeare. A rival theater company paid people to "riot" and cause disturbances at the theater, and it was shut down by the police when neighbors complained of the commotion.

White, working-class Northerners could identify with the characters portrayed in early blackface performances. Following a pattern that had been pioneered by Rice, minstrelsy united workers and "class superiors" against a common black enemy, symbolized especially by the character of the black dandy. This suggested that the abuses against northern factory workers were a graver ill than the treatment of black slaves—or by a less class-conscious rhetoric of "productive" versus "unproductive" elements of society.

Among the appeals and racial stereotypes of early blackface performance were the pleasure of the grotesque and its infantilization of blacks. These allowed—by proxy, and without full identification—childish fun and other low pleasures in an industrializing world where workers were increasingly expected to abandon such things.

With the Panic of , theater attendance suffered, and concerts were one of the few attractions that could still make money. The minstrel show as a complete evening's entertainment was born. The four sat in a semicircle, played songs, and traded wisecracks. One gave a stump speech in dialect, and they ended with a lively plantation song. The term minstrel had previously been reserved for traveling white singing groups, but Emmett and company made it synonymous with blackface performance, and by using it, signalled that they were reaching out to a new, middle-class audience.

The Herald wrote that the production was "entirely exempt from the vulgarities and other objectionable features, which have hitherto characterized negro extravaganzas. Christy's company established the three-act template into which minstrel shows would fall for the next few decades.

This change to respectability prompted theater owners to enforce new rules to make playhouses calmer and quieter.

Artist Profile - Minstrel (Nigeria) - Bio

Minstrels toured the same circuits as opera companies, circuses, and European itinerant entertainers, with venues ranging from lavish opera houses to makeshift tavern stages. Life on the road entailed "endless series of one-nighters, travel on accident-prone railroads, in poor housing subject to fires, in empty rooms that they had to convert into theaters, arrest on trumped up charges, exposed to deadly diseases, and managers and agents who skipped out with all the troupe's money.

By the late s, a southern tour had opened from Baltimore to New Orleans. Circuits through the Midwest and as far as California followed by the s. Meanwhile, celebrities like Emmett continued to perform solo. The rise of the minstrel show coincided with the growth of the abolitionist movement. Many Northerners were concerned for the oppressed blacks of the South, but most had no idea how these slaves lived day-to-day. Blackface performance had been inconsistent on this subject; some slaves were happy, others victims of a cruel and inhuman institution.

Less frequently, the masters cruelly split up black lovers or sexually assaulted black women. Songs about slaves yearning to return to their masters were plentiful. The message was clear: do not worry about the slaves; they are happy with their lot in life. Minstrelsy's reaction to Uncle Tom's Cabin is indicative of plantation content at the time.

Tom acts largely came to replace other plantation narratives, particularly in the third act. These sketches sometimes supported Stowe's novel, but just as often they turned it on its head or attacked the author. Whatever the intended message, it was usually lost in the joyous, slapstick atmosphere of the piece. Characters such as Simon Legree sometimes disappeared, and the title was frequently changed to something more cheerful like "Happy Uncle Tom" or "Uncle Dad's Cabin".

Uncle Tom himself was frequently portrayed as a harmless bootlicker to be ridiculed. Troupes known as Tommer companies specialized in such burlesques, and theatrical Tom shows integrated elements of the minstrel show and competed with it for a time. Minstrelsy's racism and sexism could be rather vicious. There were comic songs in which blacks were "roasted, fished for, smoked like tobacco, peeled like potatoes, planted in the soil, or dried up and hung as advertisements", and there were multiple songs in which a black man accidentally put out a black woman's eyes.

Non-race-related humor came from lampoons of other subjects, including aristocratic whites such as politicians, doctors, and lawyers. Women's rights was another serious subject that appeared with some regularity in antebellum minstrelsy, almost always to ridicule the notion. The women's rights lecture became common in stump speeches. When one character joked, "Jim, I tink de ladies oughter vote", another replied, "No, Mr. Johnson, ladies am supposed to care berry little about polytick, and yet de majority ob em am strongly tached to parties. Performers told nonsense riddles: "The difference between a schoolmaster and an engineer is that one trains the mind and the other minds the train.

With the advent of the American Civil War , minstrels remained mostly neutral and satirized both sides. However, as the war reached Northern soil, troupes turned their loyalties to the Union. Sad songs and sketches came to dominate in reflection of the mood of a bereaved nation.

Troupes performed skits about dying soldiers and their weeping widows, and about mourning white mothers. Social commentary grew increasingly important to the show. Performers criticized Northern society and those they felt responsible for the breakup of the country, who opposed reunification, or who profited from a nation at war.

Emancipation was either opposed through happy plantation material or mildy supported with pieces that depicted slavery in a negative light. Eventually, direct criticism of the South became more biting. Minstrelsy lost popularity during the war. New entertainments such as variety shows , musical comedies and vaudeville appeared in the North, backed by master promoters like P. Barnum who wooed audiences away. Blackface troupes responded by traveling farther and farther afield, with their primary base now in the South and Midwest. Those minstrels who stayed in New York and similar cities followed Barnum's lead by advertising relentlessly and emphasizing the spectacle of minstrelsy.

Troupes ballooned; as many as 19 performers could be on stage at once, and J. Haverly 's United Mastodon Minstrels had over members. Other minstrel troupes tried to satisfy outlying tastes. Female acts had made a stir in variety shows, and Madame Rentz's Female Minstrels ran with the idea, first performing in in skimpy costumes and tights. Their success gave rise to at least 11 all-female troupes by , one of which did away with blackface altogether. Ultimately, the girlie show emerged as a form in its own right. Mainstream minstrelsy continued to emphasize its propriety, but traditional troupes adopted some of these elements in the guise of the female impersonator.

A well-played wench character became critical to success in the postwar period. This new minstrelsy maintained an emphasis on refined music. Most troupes added jubilees, or spirituals , to their repertoire in the s. These were fairly authentic religious slave songs borrowed from traveling black singing groups. Other troupes drifted further from minstrelsy's roots. When George Primrose and Billy West broke with Haverly's Mastodons in , they did away with blackface for all but the endmen and dressed themselves in lavish finery and powdered wigs.

They decorated the stage with elaborate backdrops and performed no slapstick whatsoever. Their brand of minstrelsy differed from other entertainments only in name. Social commentary continued to dominate most performances, with plantation material constituting only a small part of the repertoire. This effect was amplified as minstrelsy featuring black performers took off in its own right and stressed its connection to the old plantations. The main target of criticism was the moral decay of the urbanized North.

Cities were painted as corrupt, as homes to unjust poverty, and as dens of " city slickers " who lay in wait to prey upon new arrivals. Minstrels stressed traditional family life; stories told of reunification between mothers and sons thought dead in the war. Women's rights, disrespectful children, low church attendance, and sexual promiscuity became symptoms of decline in family values and of moral decay. Of course, Northern black characters carried these vices even further.

By the s, minstrelsy formed only a small part of American entertainment, and, by , a mere three troupes dominated the scene. Small companies and amateurs carried the traditional minstrel show into the 20th century, now with an audience mostly in the rural South, while black-owned troupes continued traveling to more outlying areas like the West. These black troupes were one of minstrelsy's last bastions, as more white actors moved into vaudeville. One commentator described a mostly uncorked black troupe as "mulattoes of a medium shade except two, who were light. The end men were each rendered thoroughly black by burnt cork.

These black companies often featured female minstrels. One or two African-American troupes dominated the scene for much of the late s and s. The first of these was Brooker and Clayton's Georgia Minstrels , who played the Northeast around Sam Hague 's Slave Troupe of Georgia Minstrels formed shortly thereafter and toured England to great success beginning in They became the most popular black troupe in America, and the words Callender and Georgia came to be synonymous with the institution of black minstrelsy. Haverly, in turn, purchased Callender's troupe in and applied his strategy of enlarging troupe size and embellishing sets.

Their success was such that the Frohmans bought Haverly's group and merged it with theirs, creating a virtual monopoly on the market.

Al Jolson Blackface Minstrel Show

The company split in three to better canvas the nation and dominated black minstrelsy throughout the s. Racism made black minstrelsy a difficult profession. When playing Southern towns, performers had to stay in character off stage, dressed in ragged "slave clothes" and perpetually smiling. Troupes left town quickly after each performance, and some had so much trouble securing lodging that they hired whole trains or had custom sleeping cars built, complete with hidden compartments to hide in should things turn ugly.

Their salaries, though higher than those of most blacks of the period, failed to reach levels earned by white performers; even superstars like Kersands earned slightly less than featured white minstrels. In content, early black minstrelsy differed little from its white counterpart. As the white troupes drifted from plantation subjects in the mids however, black troupes placed a new emphasis on it.

The addition of jubilee singing gave black minstrelsy a popularity boost as the black troupes were rightly believed to be the most authentic performers of such material.

Critical Perspectives on Art, Politics and Culture

Although black minstrelsy lent credence to racist ideals of blackness, many African-American minstrels worked to subtly alter these stereotypes and to poke fun at white society. One jubilee described heaven as a place "where de white folks must let the darkeys be" and they could not be "bought and sold".

African Americans formed a large part of the black minstrels' audience, especially for smaller troupes. In fact, their numbers were so great that many theater owners had to relax rules relegating black patrons to certain areas. Chappelle capitalized on this and created the first totally black-owned black vaudeville show, The Rabbit's Foot Company , performed with an all-black cast that elevated the level of shows with sophisticated and fun comedy.

It successfully toured mainly the southwest and southeast, as well as in New Jersey and New York City. The Christy Minstrels established the basic structure of the minstrel show in the s. During the first, the entire troupe danced onto stage singing a popular song. Various stock characters always took the same positions: the genteel interlocutor in the middle, flanked by Tambo and Bones , who served as the endmen or cornermen.

West Chicago City Museum removes artist from exhibit after minstrel show hoax

The interlocutor acted as a master of ceremonies and as a dignified, if pompous, straight man. He had a somewhat aristocratic demeanor, a "codfish aristocrat", [88] while the endmen exchanged jokes and performed a variety of humorous songs. One minstrel, usually a tenor , came to specialize in this part; such singers often became celebrities, especially with women.

The second portion of the show, called the olio , was historically the last to evolve, as its real purpose was to allow for the setting of the stage for act three behind the curtain. It had more of a variety show structure. Performers danced, played instruments, did acrobatics, and demonstrated other amusing talents. Troupes offered parodies of European-style entertainments, and European troupes themselves sometimes performed.

The highlight was when one actor, typically one of the endmen, delivered a faux-black-dialect stump speech , a long oration about anything from nonsense to science, society, or politics, during which the dim-witted character tried to speak eloquently, only to deliver countless malapropisms, jokes, and unintentional puns. All the while, the speaker moved about like a clown, standing on his head and almost always falling off his stump at some point.

With blackface makeup serving as fool's mask, these stump speakers could deliver biting social criticism without offending the audience, [92] although the focus was usually on sending up unpopular issues and making fun of blacks' ability to make sense of them. The afterpiece rounded out the production.

In the early days of the minstrel show, this was often a skit set on a Southern plantation that usually included song-and-dance numbers and featured Sambo- and Mammy-type characters in slapstick situations. The emphasis lay on an idealized plantation life and the happy slaves who lived there.

Nevertheless, antislavery viewpoints sometimes surfaced in the guise of family members separated by slavery, runaways, or even slave uprisings. The humor of these came from the inept black characters trying to perform some element of high white culture. Slapstick humor pervaded the afterpiece, including cream pies to the face, inflated bladders, and on-stage fireworks.

The afterpiece allowed the minstrels to introduce new characters, some of whom became quite popular and spread from troupe to troupe. The earliest minstrel characters took as their base popular white stage archetypes—frontiersmen, fishermen, hunters, and riverboatsmen whose depictions drew heavily from the tall tale —and added exaggerated blackface speech and makeup. These Jim Crows and Gumbo Chaffs fought and boasted that they could "wip [their] weight in wildcats" or "eat an alligator".

Eventually, several stock characters emerged. Chief among these were the slave, who often maintained the earlier name Jim Crow, and the dandy, known frequently as Zip Coon, from the song Zip Coon. An arrogant, ostentatious figure, he dressed in high style and spoke in a series of malaprops and puns that undermined his attempts to appear dignified. The blackface makeup and illustrations on programs and sheet music depicted them with huge eyeballs, very wide noses, and thick-lipped mouths that hung open or grinned foolishly; one character expressed his love for a woman with "lips so large a lover could not kiss them all at once".

Minstrel characters were often described in animalistic terms, with "wool" instead of hair, "bleating" like sheep, and having "darky cubs" instead of children. Other claims were that blacks had to drink ink when they got sick "to restore their color" and that they had to file their hair rather than cut it.