This statement accompanies the piece “WhiteWashed” for the July 2021 “Whiteland” show at Vanderelli Room, curated by David Butler. It can be accessed from that show via a QR code.
“WhiteWashed” In Three Parts
- “ A Very Brief History of Racial Violence in America” 2021
Mixed Media on Panel ( acrylic paint, acrylic medium on mounted faux brick surface)
- “ Everything is Fine….” 2021
Mixed Media on Paper ( photo collage, acrylic, acrylic medium)
- “Sit With It” 2021
Stool with spray paint and layers of acrylic paint.
“ People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them”
– James Baldwin
My work for this exhibit puts a spotlight on how American history is told to uphold white supremacy. The Black experience was frustratingly marginalized in most of the books, and media I consumed growing up. The dominant narrative of history always portrayed slavery merely as unfortunate footnote –and what came after for Black people as irrelevant. My high school AP American History class spent an inordinate amount of time discussing the roles played by white people in the Civil War, without a word about Black heroes such as William Still or Robert Smalls, or even a mention of Harriet Tubman’s work as a Union spy. The only reading we had from a Black writer was Martin Luther King’s Letter from A Birmingham Jail. My entire education was focused on convincing all of us that American “whiteness” was an infallible beacon of good.
The whitewashing of America’s dirty deeds is highlighted in the piece titled “A Very Brief History of Racial Violence in America.” Over 30 racial massacres are memorialized on the faux brick surface, but thick white paint, gesso and acrylic medium are layered on top cover up the names and dates. Some events are entirely covered while others struggle for visibility on the surface. It was an incredibly somber and emotional process to reflect on the sheer vastness of human life destroyed in the name of white supremacy, to write the names of these tragic events, and then to cover them over as if they didn’t happen.
In the piece titled “Everything is Fine…..” I took the oft-used symbol of the flag to create a collage portrait of America. The white stripes of the American flag are traditionally held to symbolize purity and innocence. I filled them with classic celebrated images of American whiteness, with icons such as Elvis Presley, McDonalds, the Marlboro Man, John Wayne, Andrew Carnegie, 1950’s sitcoms, Ferris Bueller, The Breakfast Club, Teddy Roosevelt and Bette Davis among others. Juxtaposed against them are the red stripes that typically signify valor and strength, but that embody blood in my interpretation. I filled them with images of civil rights protests, the KKK, Confederate flags, aerial shots of suburbs, nooses, articles about the Elaine Massacre in 1919, Ida B. Wells, Sitting Bull, sharecroppers, labor strikes, mass graves of massacred indigenous peoples, mushroom clouds, Queen Lili’uokalani, and grafitti from the summer of 2020.
When people nostalgically reference the “good old days” they mean an America enculturated in “whiteness.” This piece interrogates white denial of Black suffering and the oppression of Indigenous, AAPI, and Latinx people. The entire image is covered in a thick textured layer of white acrylic paint meant to signify the whiteness or whitewashing of American identity and the concealment of a bloody and violent past.
This last piece, to which you are scanning the QR code, is titled “Sit With It.” It is an invitation to be still and process all of the pieces in this exhibition. One of my favorite quotes by James Baldwin is “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced” The denial of the full story of America’s history is why we can’t heal. My hope is that these pieces will help us face the past, rather than be trapped in it.