Home » HBO Documentary Film: BLACK ART: IN THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT – Review


by Jef Dinsmore
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Overview: Firmly rooted in the history of the Black American experience, this film is directed and produced by award-winning documentarian Sam Pollard. It is a vital and illuminating introduction to the work of some of the foremost African American visual artists working today, including Theaster Gates, Kerry James Marshall, Faith Ringgold, Amy Sherald and Carrie Mae Weems, the film is a testament to the indelible contributions of Black American artists in today’s contemporary art world. At the heart of this feature documentary is the groundbreaking exhibition, entitled “Two Centuries of Black American Art,” curated by the late African American artist and scholar David Driskell in 1976. Debut Date: Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Expectations: I could expound on my appreciation of art here, but I guess that’s not the point. The point of this documentary is that the Black artists are just as much a part of artistic expression as anyone. Sadly, just as in most walks of life the Black community needed to push themselves into recognition and that happened with the exhibit showcased here. I most certainly agree with the comment made in the trailer, seen below, that says the American canon is not complete without it. Now, this documentary needs to affirm that.

Gut Reaction: This documentary sort of schooled me on something I wasn’t expecting and it is not about the main theme of this film. I already feel that every viewpoint and expression is worthy to be gazed upon, the Black contribution included. So, what then? When I look upon fine art, regardless of what type, I just take in the piece before me. I seek out to interpret what it means to me, what it makes me think of and what it makes me feel. What I don’t do is seek out who created it. Unless it is a series of works that I like I don’t retain the artist’s name. And when I do it is immaterial to me what ethnicity say, Rodin, Pollack or Manet is.


“The Flag Is Bleeding #2” by Faith Ringgold

This documentary reminded me that there are artists behind every work and they deserve to be associated with their body of work. This documentary singled out Black artists who shared their process and their experiences as they strived for noted recognition which became possible via Driskell’s exhibition. They are indeed a part of the American Art Story.           

Conclusion: I haven’t been to a gallery in a long time, but the next time I do go I will not only take in the art but note the artist behind it. Again, this was not the intent of this documentary but like all art forms this informative piece allowed me to extrapolate from it the thoughts & feelings that I did, whether they were the same things the creator intended or not.    

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