Remembering bell hooks: A Legend in Black Art Criticism

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Remembering bell hooks: A Legend in Black Art Criticism

On Wednesday, December 15, the world lost a gem. bell hooks, the celebrated cultural critic and thinker, passed on at her home in Berea. She was 69.

It’s not every academic whose work can permeate into virtually every cultural field. hooks, however, was the exception.

She helped generations of academics, across multiple disciplines, to see themselves within the grand scope of history.

hooks grew up in Hopkinsville, a segregated town in Kentucky. She qualified for Stanford and there, she dove into feminism and the issue of white supremacy.

Come 1983, hooks held a doctorate in literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Master’s in English from the University of Wisconsin.

During her studies, hooks kept herself busy. She published her first nonfiction work and poetry collection, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism.

In this work, she describes how sexism and slavery still affect Black women.

hooks also offered a refreshing alternative to academics who use tough language and have profound but roundabout arguments.

Her work, instead of using academic jargon that most people will barely be able to decipher, went for direct inquiry. She tried to make sense of the world, warts and all.

She was also the first to call attention to Black artists and their works.

Until that point, they were largely ignored by the art world, from critics to other artists. hooks tried her best to liberate the arts from racism and whiteness.

In her 1995 book, Art on My Mind, she argued that conservative white critics and artists find it almost impossible to understand that an artist can understand visual politics without losing their commitment to aesthetics.

She added that as we come up with new ways to think of visual art, we engage in cultural transformation that will form a revolution in art and vision.

hooks wasn’t satisfied with waiting for the respected critics to comment on the non-white art world.

She wrote about artists she felt were crucial to the field, regardless of their race.

Some artists whose work she especially loved were Emma Amos, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lorna Simpson, Felix Gonzalez Torres, and Alison Saar.

hooks’ work has aged well throughout the decades, and it still remains a crucial benchmark on how we can understand our cultural landscape.

She was a pioneer who was not afraid of challenging the norm, and the world of art has benefitted greatly as a result.

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