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By Antoine du Rocher

LOS ANGELES, 15 APRIL 2011 — On his television show The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert — a self described "well-intentioned, poorly-informed, high-status idiot" — nightly sends up the excesses of the most conservative fringe in American media. He is the winkingly bloviating nincompoop from the Limbaugh/O’Reilly/Beck school of "I say it, and I’m on television, so it must be worthwhile" journalism. For example, he professes race-blindness to such a degree that it gave birth to a recurring joke where the sentence that begins "People tell me I’m white and I believe them because…" can end with any number of race-aware punchlines (such as "…because I’ve never been arrested in my foyer." or "…because police officers call me ‘sir.’").

René Kemp, Whitey, 2009.
Acrylic on canvas, 100 x 80 cm.

That comic set-up is the genesis of a group show with work by 27 young artists entitled People Tell Me I'm White and I Believe Them, on view until 17 April at the 2011 Art Cologne, the Kunsthochschule für Medien Köln (The Academy of Media Arts Cologne). According to the Kunsthochschule curatorial statement, "the title of the exhibition is borrowed from a piece by René Kemp (born 1982, lives in Cologne) and refers to a play on words that the American satirist Stephen Colbert uses in his show The Colbert Report, taking on various meanings according to the context. It indicates an inversion of prevailing logic, a twist in perspective. Although the exhibited works, chosen from over 65 submissions, are diverse, they are linked by an interest in shifting perception — in some cases ironically, in others more poetically — in respect of social structures, market mechanisms and media changes."  

Be that as it may, the Cologne art fair exhibition includes work by Mia Boysen, Felix Contzen, Allan Gretzki, Philipp Hamann, Akiro Hellgardt, Jan Hoeft, Changje Hong, Johannes Jensen, Philip Jaan, René Kemp, Polina Kluss, Alwin Lay, Jisun Lee & Catrin Mackowski, Steffi Lindner, Henning Frederik Malz, Lukas Marxt, Heidi Pfohl, Nina Poppe, Carolina Redondo, Daniela Risch, Andreas Schneider, Sebastian Thewes, Benjamin Tillig, Andrey Ustinov, Katharina Urbaniak, Nico Weber.

Meanwhile, to be shown on PBS television across the United States as of 19 April (check local listings),  the latest documentary series from Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Black in Latin America, looks at the influence of African descent on six Latin American countries including Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico and Peru. Through the faces and voices of the descendants of the Africans and their shared legacy of colonialism and slavery in these Central and South American nations, Dr. Gates seeks to discover, not only the similarities and distinctions between these cultures and how the New-World manifestations are rooted in, but distinct from, their African antecedents, but also how Africa and Europe ultimately combined to create the vibrant, albeit racially ambivalent societies of contemporary Latin America.

The series premieres nationally on Tuesdays 19, 26 April and 3 May 2011 at 8 p.m. (ET). Check local PBS listings.  

For those without access to PBS television stations, or who reside outside the United States, the full programme will stream after the broadcast premiere at Black in Latin America will also be available on DVD through PBS Home Video.

People Tell Me I'm White and I Believe Them
12 - 17 April 2011
45th Art Cologne
Koelnmesse Deutz
Entrance South
Passage 3/11
Cologne, Germany

Antoine du Rocher is Managing Editor of Culturekiosque.

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