Jan 22, 2024, 06:27AM

The “Byzantine Dadaism” of The N-Word of God

Stereotypes and “Saint Sambo.”

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The N-Word of God, a new book by the artist Mark Doox, is going to freak people out. A mashup of Byzantine and Renaissance Christian iconography, the nastiest stereotypes about black peoples you’ve ever seen, Dadaism, crank literature and righteous anti-racism, it’s a mind-blowing work that’ll leave readers reeling.

Up until now Doox was known as the man who created the magnificent icons for the Church of John Coltrane in San Francisco. Doox calls his art “Byzantine Dadaism.” He takes classic Byzantine iconography depicting the bearded white God or a saint resplendent in holy garb and surrounded by red, glorious gold, the Bible open in one hand, and imposes into the art ridiculous black stereotypes—a “cooning” face from the 1940s, Aunt Jemima. Gang bangers with guns held over their heads. In several of the paintings glittering watermelons float in space.

The N-Word of God opens, like Genesis, with God creating the world—“Let there be light.” Suddenly we’re told that the opposite of light is darkness, and the next page depicts a muscular black body tumbling out of the sun-filled heaven. The body doesn’t fall into hell, but floats back into the presence of God after God shows mercy. Thus was begotten “Saint Sambo.” Doox writes in a style that imitates the King James Bible with a heavy dose of Spike Lee: “And the N-word of God was made fresh and went among us. Many have beheld his glory, even the glory of God’s only misbegotten son! He is the light of the existential dilemma of Darkyness called the ENIGGERMA. And verily, he is the shine of the whole world.”

This “Coon Christ” teaches the holiness of grinning obsequiousness to the white man.

To describe it in detail I’ll avoid land mines and quote verbatim from the query letter Doox sent to publishers: “Saint Sambo incarnates upon the earth as an ever-smiling and sober-minded jet-black messiah figure that carries a mystical and shining watermelon that he calls ‘The Grin of Grace.’ Saint Sambo receives astounding revelations of American Mysteries, such as the Plantation of God and its Divine Economy. He has crucial visions of God’s unclothed Divine White Booty and its proper reverence. He sees his divine mission as helping as many black people as possible to survive and prosper through hidden wisdom and ultimately transforming into the prophesied and superhuman-like ‘Children of Shine in the League of Invisible Men.’ He believes that they can only accomplish this by understanding and accepting the pragmatic and wry wisdom of the N-word of God and its doctrine called ‘whiteousness.'”

In this unsubtle age people are going to think this is Doox’s own philosophy, and conservatives who know nothing about art (most of them) are going to give awful takes, but Doox is obviously offering a commentary on racism. The pseudo-religious tone of the language and its similarity to crank literature, with its absolute self-assurance, bold words and exclamation points, is obvious satire. The N-Word of God opens with a famous quote from W.E.B. Dubois about the “double consciousness” that black people have. They’re aware not only of themselves and their culture but the culture of whites, which for a lot of our history had been lethal to blacks.

This is the best kind of political art, ingenious, tasteless, bold and fearless. It’s like something you would’ve seen in the much less sensitive 1980s. As a Catholic I’m supposed to be offended at the use of holy iconography, but I was too captivated to look away. Doox also makes a profound and important point later in The N-Word of God. It’s probably the point if the whole book. There’s no such thing as black and white. Black people are not black but various shades of brown. White people aren’t white but various shades of beige and pink. There’s even overlap between the various shades of black and white. The old cliche is right—we have much more in common than we do differences.


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