Friday, August 26, 2011

Handling the past

I heard the saying the other day, "There's always more of the past."  When you think about it, that's absolutely true!  Every day we pile on yet another day in the ol' history heap.  Most days will be pretty forgettable in the massive scheme of things (I guess that's what they means by "it won't mean a thing in a hundred years.").  :D

I would venture to say that most Ephemeraologists are also history buffs - the two go hand in hand.  But there is some history that's interesting in an ephemeral way but that the US would rather forget.

I'm talking about this kind of stuff.  I found it last night when I was making some ATCs - there was an image I wanted to use and this was on the back side of it.

What is utterly astounding to me is that this piece of sheet music isn't very old at all - I'm going to guess either the Forties or Fifties (It's from a song called "Steamboats on the Mississippi").  Sadly, what we deem insensitive and completely un-PC now was commonplace only 50-60 years ago.  Isn't that hard to believe?

I don't have many articles like this, but I do have a few labels and other various bits.  It is a part of our history, and there have been wonderful articles written about African-American ephemera (in the article I linked to, it mentions the difference between African-American ephemera and Black ephemera.  I think this definitely qualifies for Black ephemera!).  I think it's important for people to remember how things were.  I also think that ephemera is an excellent way for people to learn about how it was Back Then.  But it is a sensitive subject and I won't make art with these items.  If I were a part of the culture I would absolutely make pieces with this stuff.  Heck, I would probably collect it too.  But as it is, it just seems to me that the art would come off as making fun, or trying to be a part of something I'm not.  I would be mortified if I were accused of either.

Here's my question to you:  How do you feel about it?  I would love to hear from a wide variety of folks out there.  Does this offend you?  Or should we pay more attention to it and use it to teach history?

Let me know in the comments below.

Side note:  if this image does offend you, I apologize - that wasn't my intent.  But I do believe it's important to get dialogue going about these types of things so that history doesn't repeat itself.


  1. I read this a few days ago and it really made me think. I have very mixed feelings about it.

    On the one hand, the art and culture of a certain period in history may not be pretty but how can we bury it or ignore it? We can learn from it, certainly, and not make it part of today's culture. It's history and it is what it is.

    On the other hand, some of these images conjure up a collective memory filled with prejudices and degradations. For some people, they still sting.

    One point of view is that, because some black people collect these kinds of things, it's OK. Another is that it's taboo and shouldn't be mentioned.

    It's interesting that recently someone edited "Uncle Tom's Cabin" so that it was more PC. They took out the "N word" because people find it so offensive today. Is it right to change the words of an author - especially in such a classic work? What good does it do to scrub up the language for today's reader when the "N word" was so prevalent in the period of history portrayed in the book? I can understand if people object to something like Disney's "Song of the South" because it portrays slavery as it was not. It makes slaves look content and masters look benevolent, giving the history of slavery a sugar coating rather than telling it like it was.

    I guess, overall, I think those caricatures reflect a history of sorts. At least a history of the art of that time. As such, I believe it would be more than OK to use them in a tastefully done collage. I don't think it would be appropriate to use them in a disparaging or hurtful way.

    Just my thoughts and opinions.

  2. Mel and Eileen, you both bring up really good points. I'd certainly like some of my art to create dialogue, but at the same time, I don't want it to hurt anyone's feelings. It would have to be done in a very sensitive manner. Something to think about, for sure1