Revered jazz musician Sun Ra claimed to have come to Earth from Saturn to lead black people to their true home on another planet. He was still earthbound when he died in 1993, but his belief — that black people might as well be from another planet as far as many Americans are concerned — still resonates today.
Superficial stereotypes distort everyone's perceptions, but for African-Americans, the ghetto casts a long shadow no matter who they are or what they've accomplished. Many black artists have created their own caricatures of those negative cliches as a way of critiquing the critiques — a strategy that pervaded last year's 30 Americans expo of leading black artists at the Contemporary Arts Center. So much emphasis on one approach risks appearing redundant, but New Orleans native Katrina Andry's unusually large, briskly acerbic yet startlingly original woodblock prints are in a class by themselves.
Andry's prints stand out for quirky innovations like role reversals of ghetto stereotypes featuring white people in blackface. For instance, When I Grow Up: The Ascribed Black American Dream (pictured) features a young black sleeping under a blanket of white youths in blackface brandishing drugs and knives amid the interwoven words, "When I grow up I dream of being ... a drug dealer ... NBA star ... homicidal single mother ..." in an anthem of desperate options. Andry also often substitutes a reddish "watermelon face" for blackface.
The Jungle Bunny Gave You Fever depicts a Garden of Eden scene with a nude white woman in Playboy bunny ears and "watermelon face" embraced by a snake as white guys carry on like drug-crazed frat boys in a parody of the "oversexed black folk" cliche. Andry's stone lithograph self-portraits depict her as an angry black woman in meltdown mode, but in person she is gracious and demure, befitting an artist who recently made Art In Print magazine's top 50 printmakers list.