Fig. 1: "Rythm Mastr: Tower of Power"
Fig. 2: "Rythm Mastr: Every Beat of My Heart"
Fig. 3: "Rythm Mastr: Bulletin!"
No work in this exhibit takes up space like Kerry James Marshall’s Rythm Mastr series. These works occupy multiple spaces at the same time. This is a fine artwork (each artwork is owned by the Museum of Modern Art) whose medium is a comic newspaper strip (Art21, “Rythm Mastr”: Kerry James Marshall). These works also address multiple types of spaces. Black bodies warp space. Black body warps space in a way a white body does not -- the choice of Jeremy Grey as the hero of Captain Confederacy over a black male lead and the alien lead of Strange Fruit are proof of that. This is psychological space, though. The interaction between blackness and physical space within a narrative is not as pronounced. Rythm Mastr offers insights into both types of spaces.
The three title pages here show three different spaces in three different lights. Fig. 1 shows a black figure aiming and loading a bazooka weapon at an urban water tower. Without the following panels providing context for this page, the reader is to assume this black male is conducting urban warfare on the communal water supply. For all intents and purposes, this person is conducting warfare on a source the community is dependent on -- a source the community does not control, but the bureaucracy does. Water is essential for life, but the distribution and management of such vital necessities in urban communities is relegated to the hands of a few (historically and still often white) politicians. Black people have and still do not (if Flint, Michigan’s water epidemic is any indication) live in areas where they have access or control to safe life necessities like water, organic fresh food, clean air, and so on. The water tower is not an animate threat to the black man aiming a military weapon at it, but what the tower represents -- a lack of control, racial equity, and autonomy -- is threatening.
With Fig. 2, a more traditional American comics scene is shown: a group of black figures are in motion, from the drum player in the foreground to the swinging mass to the viewer’s left to the flying figure to the right. Once again, the scene takes place in an urban environment. This time, the viewer is not only the street, but looking upwards. We are behind the action and cannot directly see the faces of the figures. Much like with Warhol, we are meant to see these figures as bodies in action and to see the scene. We see debris from the ground and the central building is partially demolished, showing a figure on the inside. The scene is chaotic, filled with movement and bodies that the viewer is a part of. There is an inclusion the viewer feels here that is absent in Fig. 3. There, the viewer looks down from the lighting equipment of a TV news set. The black female anchor sits behind her desk, reporting, as other bodies crowd the bottom of the page. There is plenty of empty space and no movement. The lights and TV equipment dwarf the human figures. There is a great contrast between the two images. In the former, black people are in abundance, taking up space and performing actions, but out on the dark, urban streets near a less-than-pristine neighborhood. In the latter, only one black figure sits still, her body contained, and is dwarfed by the machinery and professional environment. The social capital of the space -- the dark dirty urban streets versus the white-collar newsroom -- decreases with the presence of black bodies. Conversely, black bodies respond to the prestige and lightness (see: whiteness) of the space they occupy (also seen in Michael Ray Charles). From these images in Rythm Mastr, it can be surmised that black bodies and physical space affect one another.
- Art21. “‘Rythm Mastr’: Kerry Marshall James.” Art21, PBS, https://art21.org/read/kerry-james-marshall-rythm-mastr/.
Fig. 2: Marshall, Kerry James. “Rythm Mastr: Every Beat of My Heart.” MoMA, Museum of Modern Art, https://www.moma.org/collection/works/215346?artist_id=8285&locale=en&sov_referrer=artist. Accessed 18 Dec 2017.
Fig. 3: Marshall, Kerry James. “Rythm Mastr: Bulletin!" MoMA, Museum of Modern Art, https://www.moma.org/collection/works/215347?artist_id=8285&locale=en&sov_referrer=artist. Accessed 18 Dec 2017.