The Black Aesthetic – Diversity Through Data by Jason Burke

Pick Your Own Cotton

Decolonizing Traditional Power Structures

Jason Burke

In December 2019, I participated in a gallery show entitled The Circle.

The premise of the class was to decolonize and democratize the traditional learning environment which was built for white “scholarly gentlemen.” The course, Decolonizing the Book, laid the foundation for my current project… Diversity Through Data.

Picture of Artist Gallery Show
Burke’s, Why We Can’t Wait Installation

Because African Canadians are customarily underrepresented in all socioeconomic communities and sectors of our country, it is important to me to visualize this work as if I was presenting at the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) in a medium that would accurately illustrate the sheer weight of the emotional and physical machines relied on to enslave African people in America, Canada and in various communities of the world.

By focussing on the Cotton Gin, the Printing Press and the Wright Flyer Engine, I want visitors of this exhibit to appreciate that for four hundred years these machines in parallel, with slave labour were used to build generational wealth, plant power structures for white institutions and set up administrative protections that can only now be dismantled with technology for the first time in modern history. Can you imagine the full weight of any of these machines placed on your neck for a period of 8:46 seconds?

Cotton Gin

A Cotton Gin On Display
Low End Theory | Whitney Museum of American Art

“Cultivation of cotton using enslaved Africans brought huge profit to the owners of large plantations, making them some of the wealthiest men in the U.S. prior to the Civil War; Slaves were the most important asset in cotton cultivation, and their sale brought profits to slave owners outside of cotton-cultivation areas.” – Wikipedia





Printing Press

Picture of Printing Press
Industrial Revolution Printing Press

“Since the  age of African enslavement, music has been the cornerstone language of African American identity. Because reading and writing were forbidden according to the rigors of plantation life. Music then became the only accessible form of communication. Hundreds of years later, in inner-city neighborhoods plagued by high illiteracy and dropout rates, music remains the most dependable medium of expression. Thus, Hip Hop is to modern-day as Negro Spirituals to enslaved Africans on the plantations of the old South; The emergent music articulates the terrors of one’s environment better than written, or spoken word, thereby forging an “unquestioned association of oppression with creativity [that] is endemic” to African American culture.” – Wikipedia

Wright Engine

Picture of Wright Brothers Engine
Wright Engine from Industrial Revolution

“Because the ancestors of many African-Americans were forcibly removed from their homelands and stripped of their history like most enslaved Africans, any culture that has found its way into the Black lexicon is at its roots an Afrofuturist notion. It is at its heart reclaiming a past erased and creating a future based on that reimagined past. – Wikipedia


Black people are disadvantaged not just because of the color of their skin but because of the  relentless socioeconomic weight of four hundred years of systemic racism on our communities.


Pick Your Own Cotton Copyright © 2020 by Jason Burke. All Rights Reserved.

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