Barbara Jordan Beauty School, 2009, conte and graphite on paper bags

Barbara Jordan Beauty School, 2009, conte and graphite on paper bags

A powerful comment on race at Art on Paper's inaugural fair

You've probably written on paper, crumbled it up, and even cut it. But have you ever used it to create a giant installation of puppets? Such was the showpiece greeting attendees at the latest fair to take part in Armory Arts Week, Art on Paper. Unlike most other fairs during the busy New York City art season, Art on Paper sticks to a unifying theme of works using and inspired by, you guessed it--paper. 

At Pier 36 the works were imaginative in their ability to repurpose paper in a digital age. From Mia Pearlman's cut paper installation to Beata Drozd's intricate collages made from fashion magazines to Nathaniel Donnett's thought-provoking piece on colorism titled Barbara Jordan Beauty School. In the latter work, Donnett uses paper bags to reference the "brown paper bag test," an example of internalized racism, once used as a means of discrimination within the African-American community to determine the beauty and social mobility of individuals. Those who were lighter than a paper bag "passed" and those who were darker were ostracized.

Donnett's work, part of the Jenkins Johnson Gallery booth, highlighted the nuances paper has within the African-American community as not only an everyday material, but also a marker of racial challenges in a fair with very few other artistic statements on race. "We use paper not just to identify our color but also to show our culture," said fairgoer and photographer, Renee Best. "It is good to see artists of color questioning racism and colorism in the art world and causing us to confront that in their work." Whether or not that message got across to most of the fair's 18,000 visitors during its run from March 5 - 8 is unknown. But one thing clear is that should Art on Paper return next year, Armory Arts Week will have a new formidable player in its circle.