One of the most important questions you can ask about media is how it represents – ideas, things, people. But it’s not just a question of what the mechanisms for representation are. Instead, questions about representation are questions about meaning and about power: how they are produced and maintained. And representations are a site of struggle over meanings and power. The news media are one particularly potent site for engaging with the politics of representation. How are stories told in the news? What cultural frameworks guide the construction of news stories and, in turn, our engagement with the news? How do these frameworks help perpetuate harmful ideological positions?
On this episode of Modern Media, we speak with multimedia artist Alexandra Bell about her work that engages with precisely these questions of representation. In particular, we talk with her about two series of prints that she has produced over the last several years. The earlier series - “Counternarratives” - reimagines New York Times articles (through revision, redaction, annotation, and magnification) in order to reveal and confront the news media’s complicity in perpetuating racial prejudice. Her later series, “No Humans Involved: After Sylvia Wynter,” (which was part of the 2019 Whitney Biennial) engages the coverage surrounding what came to be called the “Central Park Five” or the “Central Park Jogger” case from 1989. Across both series, Alexandra Bell’s work reveals the explicit and implicit biases that underwrite news narratives involving communities of color, and how those biases circulate nearly invisibly under the guise of journalistic objectivity.
Read more about Alexandra Bell’s work:
From The New Yorker magazine, April 17, 2019
From The New Yorker magazine, May 29, 2018
From The New York Times, December 7, 2017
Episode Music Credits: Blue Dot Sessions
“An Oddly Formal Dance” (www.sessions.blue)
“Careless Morning” (www.sessions.blue)
“Our Digital Compass” (www.sessions.blue)
“Our Own Melody” (www.sessions.blue)