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From Fat Albert to O.J. Simpson, UC Artist Explores African American Masculinity in New York Exhibit

UC print maker Noel Anderson uses imagery and references from cartoon character Fat Albert and athlete O.J. Simpson to explore “the blurred lines” of African American masculinity in an ongoing New York exhibit.

Date: 9/8/2013
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Michael Everett and provided by Noel Anderson
“One way to be is not the only way to be.”

So says University of Cincinnati artist Noel Anderson, who hopes that message comes through by means of his work on display through Oct. 12 at New York City’s Jack Tilton Gallery, an exhibit space well known for discovering and promoting cutting-edge, emerging artists from around the world.
UC's Noel Anderson teaching in studio.

The title of his solo exhibit is “Chapter 26: He’s a Magik Men” and is part of an ongoing series titled “Mascuminity.” (Think of the words “masculinity” and “anonymity” blended into one.)

After this New York exhibit, Anderson’s most-recent works will next show in the prestigious Art Basel, an international exhibit of works by emerging and established artists, held in December in Miami Beach. Beyond that, “Chapter 26” will then exhibit at Art Basel in Basel, Switzerland, next June.

“Chapter 26” is comprised of a number of large tapestries, some sporting photographic images pressed into woven fabric tapestries, while others consist of paintings on Astroturf.

Whatever the specific materials or media, Anderson’s interest in exploring black masculinity is a consistent thread. He explains, “Black masculinity is more complex and diverse than ever before.”
Fat Albert tapestry
A tapestry by UC's Noel Anderson depicting the cartoon character, Fat Albert.

For instance, one figure depicted in Anderson’s exploration of race and identity is the cartoon character, Fat Albert, who served to shape and define attitudes of black masculinity for generations of children, in a show where the main character (Fat Albert) works to maintain integrity in a show that dealt with serious issues – from smoking to gun violence and from racism to immigration – all in a manner appropriate for children.

Projected via painting on the back of an Astroturf tapestry is a series of meandering lines that serve as a reference one-time football player O.J. Simpson. The lines representing how the man once considered an archetype of black male masculinity will never find his way back to his former persona.

According to Anderson, “I focus on African American males because I am one. I am not satisfied with what I see in the world in terms of the limited vision of what African American men are or are supposed to be. I want to encourage new, more diverse visions of what it can mean to be an African American man.”

His selection of varied media – painting, print, tapestry fabrics and photography – is deliberate, seeking the recapture and reconnect these media to their common historical roots. “I also want viewers to question whether a work is a painting, a photo, a print or even a photo of a painting. Just as with the complex theme of black masculinity, it’s more interesting when it’s less defined, when it’s unclear and muddy. I would also term it as liquid.You have to figure it out for yourself.”
Aura photograph of Anderson as N(ic)ole Brown Simpson.
An aura photograph in the exhibit of Anderson as N(ic)ole Brown Simpson.