To David Hammons (first letter)


I take strength from what you’ve accomplished — and for doing it while knowing you were never free enough.  I imagine you early on, taking Frantz Fanon’s observation to heart: The colonized is elevated above his jungle status in proportion to his adoption of the mother country’s cultural standards. It’s taken me thirty odd years of compounding realizations to accept that nobody changes the system from within, perhaps in part because I didn’t grow up perpetually assaulted by the way things are. I’m still not really over it either. I can’t mask my disdain when people of privilege start pontificating. And yet, sheepishly, here I am writing this not sent letter, pontificating while privileged, if only because of the whiteness that absolves me from so much daily struggle, terror, indignity and pain.
Does this contradiction have anything in common with the seeming incompatibility of your convictions and a professionally lauded, fifty-year-long art career? I don’t hate art. When you said you couldn’t stand it, I presumed to know what you really meant (and I couldn’t agree more). To this day I might only be able to suggest, and on rare occasions expose, what has nothing to do with art at all (as you’ve always done for me).
I can’t hate what claims to be art either, even when, more often than not, it’s not. Hate is too binding a word. I don’t have a stake in the competitions involved. There’s no investment. I’m not about to start speculating. It’s taken me decades to get here honestly, almost confidently, while you have always already arrived, understanding that each economy is an imposition, a controlling mechanism that replaces love and life with cynical, automated games.
A marvelous, ongoing breach in the existing order has formed from your ephemeral interventions. One is reminded that art never needed to assert itself, to prove something, to be paraded, exploited, affirmed, demeaned or favored to exist. Art doesn’t enroll in, or submit to, a pecking order, a hierarchy. It doesn’t perform not enrolling or submitting to secure a prestigious place within one either (the recurring means and end for so many of your imitators).
Your singularity confirms that if art is truly all over, it must also, always, be elsewhere.
In solidarity,