Sunday, June 21, 2009

Black Cherokee

Watch Black Cherokee's video here.
Black Cherokee

Otis Houston is an artist and poet. He calls himself Black Cherokee and can be seen on the side of the FDR Drive South at the 125th St entrance, underneath the Triborough Bridge. His work consists of performance art and installations made of poetic signs and found objects which he carefully arranges. I have been watching his work for about 10 years which he started in 1997. Black Cherokee is the most prolific artist and performer I know. Since traffic is slow and constant in this section of the FDR Drive South I am sure millions of people have seen his work. In an almost alchemical transformation, Black Cherokee has turned a forgotten urban dead zone into a magical performance space.
black Cherokee's Performance Locations

In a recent installation Black Cherokee put up a big sign that read "Got Debt? Live Well, Eat Better, Spend Less". Weeks before that he had a small sign up simply reading "Try". These gestures brighten peoples lives. They are free and, unlike most roadside messages, invite viewers into a space of creativity rather than consumerism. These are gifts and am happy each time I receive one. I enjoy sharing these gifts with others and am glad to be giving some of his work to you.

I saw my favorite piece of his in the summer of 2003. Otis had hundreds and hundreds of books piled up in a sort of fortress. He was standing in the middle of this structure with books strapped to his body, on his head, his arms, his legs, all over. It looked like a suit of armor. He was shaking his arms and pointing violently at the traffic as it passed. His gesticulations had the same wild and authoritarian physicality as one sees in speeches made a Benito Mussolini or other such period dictator. Though I will not attempt a full exegesis of this performance clearly Otis was saying something about power and knowledge, performance and pedagogy, maybe even fascism. This image has stuck in my head ever since I have seen it.

See another account of his work here.

Otis is not crazy. He is simply disseminating his work by any means necessary. Any artist should be willing to do the same, even at risk of seeming crazy. In fact, an artist who is not pushing at the surface of sanity from time to time might not be trying hard enough. I am happy to help propagate his work, philosophy and ideas. Black Cherokee inhabits a space of political and artistic discourse far outside the academy. Thats what makes his work so wonderful. He is not trying to get rich or famous, he is simply doing the work because he knows it is important.

I used to think he did it to save his own life. Now I believe he does it to save our lives.

Thank you Otis.

Read some of Otis Houston's poetry by visiting and searching for poems by Otis Houston.

Why can't we Love each other
With all our might

Red Yellow Black and White
Why can't we live in PEACE
And never never never Fight

Red Yellow Black and White
We need each other
Like the day need the night

Red Yellow Black and White
Is it to hard
For us to do what is right

Red yellow Black and White
We all know that it's evil
We must fight with all our might
Red Yellow Black and White

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