What Kind of IST Are YOU? / by Tania Katan

Recently, I had the privilege of seeing Sonya Renee Taylor perform her poem,  "When The Shotgun Questions The Black Boy" live at the Mesa Arts Center. It’s a hard poem to watch. It’s about a shot. It’s about shooting. About a bullet and the triggers. Be warned, this poem will blow you away. Taylor was compelled to write the poem after Trayvon Martin and Darius Simmons, after—and in the wake of— all the young black men that have been blown away. She says that the media and society have created a narrative that requires the victim to defend his/her character from the grave. Was he a good boy? Was he heading to college? Was he mentally ill? Did he do drugs? Was he going to jail? Was he good to his mother? Did he REALLY do enough to justify being alive?

So, right now, you might thinking, WHOA, this is some heavy stuff, Tania! I’m not an IST! I give money, I march, I protest, I do my part to promote social justice for all races, religions, genders, people, so… get off my jock, Katan!  Well, you might be surprised to learn that there's real pride in becoming a certain kind of IST, an Artist.

The Salon article “10 ways white people are more racist than they realize” is truly illuminating! Out of 10 different studies about beliefs and unconscious biases towards race, there is only one, very small, teeny-tiny exception to the IST rule and it lies totally hidden in parenthesis within #1. (with the sole exception of fine arts).

After experiencing Sonya Renee Taylor’s poem, I dove into a week filled with artists shifting narratives. Artist Mark Bradford’s spoke at Phoenix Art Museum about his Art + Practice project, which brings museum-caliber contemporary art and social services together in the place where he grew up, Leimert Park in Los Angeles; watched Theaster Gates’ TED talk on transforming abandoned buildings into community hubs that connect and inspire the people who live there; and in the wake of all of these artists (and more) challenging societal norms and using their voices to create movement(s), community, conversations, and new narratives, it seems insufficient for me to have the last word of this blog post.

"When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid." –Audre Lorde