André Ramos-Woodard: Black Snafu (Situation Niggas: All Fucked Up)
On View at Leon Gallery: March 5 th – April 16th , 2022.
Review by Emily Owens
Socio-critical photography darling, André Ramos-Woodard, strikes again with his thought-provoking and demanding works. Having charmed the local art scene during the 2021 Month of Photography and The Big Picture, Ramos-Woodard makes his mark on the Queen City again, this time with his own solo-exhibition at Leon Gallery.
Black Snafu: (Situation Niggas: All Fucked Up) exhibits the artists recent MFA thesis work by the same title for the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Black Snafu examines Black history in America, a “situation” the artist describes as “distorted and fucked up, perpetuating the racist repercussions of European colonialism and white privilege.” The artists socio- politically urgent work is refreshing and unapologetic, cutting straight to the core of Black representation in the United States. His work examines the stereotypes reinforced both externally by majority white entertainment industries in their racist depictions, and those reinforced internally within the Black community through capitalist consumerism.
The exhibition gets its name from a series of “educational” cartoon shorts, informing viewers on WWII military and warfare tactics. 1 The shorts were produced by Warner Bros. in the 1940’s and titled Private Snafu. Ramos-Woodard appropriates such depictions of people of color throughout the 20th century and juxtaposes them throughout the gallery space with more contemporary and culturally uplifting characters, such as Cyborg from the 1980’s New Teen Titans, Huey and Riley Freeman from The Boondocks comic series and A.J. from The Fairly OddParents holding an “ACAB” sign. The works defy the limits of the framed photographs, with some of the characters drawn on the walls and bricks of the gallery, allowing portions of the work to be site-specific.
The body of work is comprised of photographic prints, which are then drawn upon with either colored pencil, chalk, or marker allowing each edition of the work to be its own unique piece. Interwoven with the appropriation of 20th and 21st Black characters, the photographs question such prescient topics as police brutality, Black identity, and authenticity in a consumerist culture. Much of the works are self-portraits, such as me, which depicts the artist stripped down to his underwear in a non-specific room, peering into his camera from above, hovering over the viewer. A caricature of the artist and his camera obscure his face, creating a negation of the self, his unadulterated state covered by simplistic illustrated imagery. In so doing, the artist denounces himself to a mere caricature: a furthered critique of the reification of racist stereotyping still prevalent in contemporary society. Other works, such as authenticity, recall art history, with his mother’s hands symbolizing religious prayer and draped in an excess of jewelry or “bling.” A silver chain covering the lower part of her hands reads “Cultural Experience,” the words pointed to by the white gloved hands often depicted by Mickey Mouse and worn by domestic slaves in early US history and post-Antebellum domestic workers. The work questions the authenticity of religious and Black identity in a capitalist culture, in which monetary gain is oft symbolized throughout popular Black culture by bling, gold teeth, and so forth.
In a corner of the gallery hangs an American flag—burnt, torn, pissed on, and illustrated with depictions of people of color throughout US history—aptly titled The Amerikkkan Flag. The work extends the familiar racist depictions to those outside of Black culture, encompassing the greater history of marginalized and oppressed groups. The Major League Baseball logo for the Cleveland Indians, Speedy Gonzalez from Warner Bros. cartoons, Captain America of Marvel Comics, Slowpoke Rodriguez of Looney Tunes, the Terry Tunes magpie duo Heckle & Jeckle, and others throughout the United States entertainment industry cover the flag alongside equally familiar, black-faced, red-lipped Sambo characters. A white chalk depiction of an anonymous KKK hooded figure hides among the white stars, and in the lower register, a real cartoon from a Missouri newspaper in which a black “hoodlum” robs a white woman, saying, “Good Luck with that lady…, we defunded the police!” The piece is stomach-churning, a stunning indictment of the American past and present all at once, and placed on the strongest symbol of American independence, freedom, and equality. Ramos-Woodard’s work reminds the viewer that the
American Dream is still that, a dream, and until reparations are made and equality achieved for all citizens, it will remain just that: an illusion.
The aesthetically beautiful and intellectually rich works of André Ramos-Woodard’s Black Snafu (Situation Niggas: All Fucked Up) will be on exhibition at Leon Gallery until Saturday, April 16th .
1 Andre Ramos-Woodard, Black Snafu (Situation Niggas: All Fucked Up), Artist’s Statement. Colorado: Leon Gallery. March 5th -April 16th , 2022.
Month of Photography, CPAC: https://denvermop.org
The Big Picture: https://www.instagram.com/the_big_picture_colo/?hl=en
Andre Ramos Woodard: https://www.andreramoswoodard.com