Two Weeks at Tuskegee: Or Wow! This country is in a lot of pain

This has been a tough couple of weeks. Last summer, when a certain upcoming election was still wearing heavily on my mind, I decided I needed to better understand how the United States has, historically, created an “other”, that group of people who becomes the scapegoat in times of economic or physical turbulence. Where better to go than Tuskegee University, which holds the largest archives of lynchings in the United States? So here I am, at the end of a two-week research residency in Alabama, researching racial terrorism.

After 9/11 Newsweek published a title story “Why They Hate Us”. At they time I was teaching high school English. This cover photo and title so enraged me, so disgusted me by how irresponsible and inflammatory it was that I immediately bought a copy.


The image and its heading became a teaching tool for my persuasive writing unit: How does this magazine encourage xenophobia and Islamophobia? What responsibility do news sources have to present a perspective that does not incite fear and misunderstanding? Etc, etc.  As I was researching newspaper sources on historical acts of domestic terrorism these past two weeks, these same questions occurred to me. How has media and how does media contribute to the perception of “other” as something to be feared and something to blame?

I spent time these past couple of weeks reading newspaper articles about lynchings written between 1899-1938, and counting the number of times the word “Negro” was used in place of “man”, “woman”, “person”, or “child”. In one article a young man was presented to the newspaper’s audience only as “negro” and “prisoner”. Might I add that the teenager in the story had not yet been found guilty of anything? Seldom was the person stated by his or her gender. Sometimes the word “boy” replaced “negro”, but these were rare occurrences.

Satire, an expressive tool I usually love, became a weapon when Northern papers reported on lynchings. I wonder if it is ever appropriate to use irony when addressing something so violent, toxic, and painful. Also, I am reminded of how satire used during the Election 2016 cycle wound up alienating voters who were wary of the political establishment. Could the same have been true during the years lynchings reached their peak?

Senator Bilbo from Mississippi said during the 1938 filibuster over the Anti-lynching Law that was being proposed“Take out the 12,000,000 negroes and there will be a job for every white boy and every white girl.”

Why, in this country, does it constantly become one against the other? And how is this “other” determined? Why in a country that raises a torch in the spirit of Independence is it so terrifying to be a non-white male? Why, whenever someone challenges our thinking around the creation of “other” is there such a violent, repulsive backlash? Most importantly how can we learn to remain open to differences and things that challenge our perspectives and understandings of the world around us. Different is not wrong. Different has no judgment. It is just different.

Tic-Toc: Opening Day is a Week Away!

My-oh-my, installation for Race and Revolution begins tomorrow morning at early o’clock! With all of these preparations underway (packing, getting permits, taking inventory – sort of, training interns, the artists of Race and Revolution have been starting revolutions of their own!

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But before I get into the artists who participated at the DNC, I want to thank Ron Shelton of HIGH ART FRIDAYS for featuring Race and Revolution on his online arts magazine. The article features a piece gilf! created for Truth and Power, an art exhibition just outside of the DNC that focused on the social and political woes in the U.S. Gilf! made a provocative work of art called . . . and counting that is both beautiful and tragic. She has written the names of all men, women, and children killed by police in 2016, 620 . . . and counting, on toe tags tied to satiny white ribbon that sway as if breathing.

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Michelle Angela Ortiz also kicked some Democratic Convention butt as she marched with Juntos outside of the DNC to protest the ICE building in Philly. ICE is where undocumented immigrants are jaile- I mean detained until the country decides what to do with them. She painted twelve portraits of people who have been or are being detained. Their stories are written on the backs of the portrait, making it a double-sided mural that could be turned around to give face and voice to these invisible men, women, and children.

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Jen Painter was on assignment for day two of the DNC. She had the exciting task of photographing Patrick Kennedy, who was there with Like-Minded, an organization that creates opportunity and awareness for people suffering from mental illness. Jen’s work always addresses community, in all of its messy and passionate iterations. This community organization is challenging the status quo on how mental illness is treated (or not treated) in the United States.

Preparations Underway!

Race and Revolution opens in less than two weeks! This week my interns and I helped artist Ann Lewis (gilf!) prep her art piece that will hang over the stairs in the gallery. She is using this opportunity to create awareness around police shootings.

Ann’s piece will be at the Democratic national Convention before it makes its way back to NYC for Race and Revolution’s opening on August 3rd.

She is writing the names and their cause of death for each and every victim. Her research process has been fastidious; through her work I have learned so much about the statistics of police-initiated violence in the United States. We are losing a lot of men at the hands of the police, some guilty but many not guilty.

Nicholas Galanin: Culture and Perception

I asked artist Nicholas Galanin (R) if I could use this photo to introduce his work because of its multi-layered irony: Make America Great Again . . . To his right is a canoe that is being carved using traditional Tlingit (First Nation) tools and methods. Follow its progress on @silverjackson on Instagram.

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Born in Sitka, Alaska, NICHOLAS GALANIN has struck an intriguing balance between his origins and the course of his practice. Having trained extensively in ‘traditional’ as well as ‘contemporary’ approaches to art, he pursues them both in parallel paths. His stunning bodies of work simultaneously preserve his culture and explore new perceptual territory. Galanin studied at the London Guildhall University, where he received a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts with honors in Jewelry Design and Silversmithing and at Massey University in New Zealand earning a Master’s degree in Indigenous Visual Arts. Valuing his culture as highly as his individuality, Galanin has created an unusual path for himself. He deftly navigates “the politics of cultural representation”, as he balances both ends of the aesthetic spectrum. With a fiercely independent spirit, Galanin has found the best of both worlds and has given them back to his audience in stunning form.

Nona Faustine: An Artist’s Duty. . .

I asked Ms. Faustine what role she thinks an artist has in society – especially in these tense times.

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Good question, it’s one that we are still discussing, each generation has to answer that for themselves. I’m from the Nina Simone school of thought she put it so eloquently and beautifully. “An artist’s duty to which as far as I’m concerned is to reflect the times. I think that is true of painters, sculptures, poets, musicians; it’s their choice but I choose to reflect the times and the situations in which I find myself. That to me is my duty, at this crucial time in our lives when everything is so desperate when everyday is a matter of survival. I don’t think you can help but be involved… I don’t think you have a choice how can you be an artist and not reflect the times. That to me is the definition of an artist.”

Nona Faustine: History and the Black Body

Nona Faustine’s piece Like a Pregnant Corpse the Ship Expelled Her into the Patriarchy symbolizes slave ships arriving on Brooklyn’s shores, a story rarely told. Here she writes about art being reflective of history: whose stories continue to be left out?

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Whose bodies matter and why and by that I mean who is being most represented and seen, whose stories are being told over and over again? Through whose eyes are we looking at history and what does that mean? How does photography reflect the history of the black body and what is that history? What is my place within that? How do you make interpretations of the world with what you’ve been given? As Americans who are we really? How did we get to this place and time? The fallout from all of that history still haunts us, its impact dominates and in many cases dictates our lives. 

Nona Faustine: Racism is . . .

Nona Faustine marches up the steps of the Tweed Courthouse, built on top of what was part of the African Burial Ground, in New York City; this photo is titled Over My Dead Body.

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Racism in the United States is a cancer that has infected every segment of our culture and society for too long. Institutionally and structurally operating on all levels and highly adaptive, you see its devastating effects on a daily basis. To be fully proficient it demands that a large segment of our society denies its existence and denies, at least publicly, that they are indoctrinated, that the disparities and inequalities we see in our society are simply due to some lack of accountability, ambition, and inferiority, in one’s self or group of people that it affects. You wonder if there will ever come a day in this country when racism won’t be so prevalent. What is most distressing is the thought of how one’s life as an African American with Native blood would be different if racism didn’t exist.


Nona Faustine on History, Memory, and Trauma

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The opportunity to explore little known aspects of the role of Africans and Native people in the Revolution, it’s absolutely dynamic! At this time in my creative work explores history and memory and trauma. American History is so much more than what we have been taught in school and that is such a tragedy to me, particularly the contributions and sacrifices of African and Native people whom without there would be no America. We need desperately to change that.