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Dissolving Stereotypes/Forging New Dialogues: An Exhibition Beyond Race

Jul 18, 2009 - Sep 26, 2009
10am - 5pm

Curator’s Statement

“Through education and training we have promoted the notion that categorizing is an appropriate and acceptable way to give form and understanding to any number of subjects or ideas. Art historians, educators, art critics, anthropologists and countless others have devoted considerable study to bringing certain characteristics, symbols and other cultural images together to establish such categories.

Over time we have come to accept that a particular grouping of characteristics by country with the word “art” following, has provided us an understanding of many diverse perspectives and cultures. We frequently refer to Eskimo Art, Chinese Art, African Art, American Art, knowing that the viewer or reader will perceive an instant (although stereotyped) visual notion of what such a term means. Also, in an effort to understand the many and varied approaches to the visual arts, we use categories such as Impressionism, realism, abstraction, modern art, post-modern, black art, folk art, vernacular art and others….In fact, we are so accustomed to clustering characteristics in order to discover meaning that we readily create new categories as the need arises, i.e. post-black, new genre, etc.

In many instances it seems easier to create a new category rather than grapple with the complexities and nuances of the artwork at hand. Also, diametrically positioned works frequently and inevitably generated by creative visual artists compound this ever-shifting phenomenon. It has been my notion for some time that while the practice of establishing categories has some useful purpose, it is absolutely crucial that we not let such categories meld into static stereotypes, as has been prior practice. Too often we have allowed such stereotypical notions – particular in reference to ethnic and gender based artwork – to invade our consciousness and thus limit our scope of understanding of the work. A contemporary artist in Mexico may create effectively organized and artistically handled imagery that shows little if any of the characteristics we have come to accept as Mexican Art. An African American artist from Atlanta may create an artwork that is both compelling in its presence and universal in its appeal yet fails to meet the expected characteristics of Black Art…i.e., its not “angry work”, nor does it focus on the Black family, religion, Black History or other black culture notions. A white American may utilize subject matter that evolves from a black family or event… (isn’t that a no-no?).
When an artist, museum, gallery or other visual arts professional promotes characteristics linked to a stereotyped category i.e., Black Art or Chicano Art without any regard for artistic quality, aesthetic merit or compositional integrity, then I believe a disservice has been perpetuated. It is indeed sad when a well intending organization inadvertently (or with knowledge) sells or promotes bad art to it’s public; especially a public willing and able to acquire or champion ethnic or gender-based art. After all, the public depends on institutions and well-intended organizations to present “good” stuff, not bad stuff.

Interestingly enough, the art establishment seems to reduce emphasis on the ethnic background of certain artists when the work is exceptionally strong in a universal and aesthetic context. In this regard the works of such artists as Martin Puryear, Richard Hunt, Mel Chin and Judy Pfaff are basically considered for their artistic merit and credibility more so than for any reference to race, culture, age or gender.

These comments however, are in no way intended to suggest that quality art should be free of race, age or gender references. Rather … quality artwork should encourage the viewer, reader or participating audience to extend the dialogue beyond race to a broader level in order to engage a more universal perspective. If the work is good it should draw you to its essence…it should facilitate a dialogue between the viewer and the work itself.

The works of Robert Colescott, Kara Walker, Edgar Heap of Birds, or Elizabeth Catlett-Mora among others evolve from positions of race, culture, gender or heritage but they have gained substance and stature in the art world because the work has universal appeal and aesthetic credibility.

The works in this exhibition encourage the dissolving of stereotypes, provide opportunities for new dialogues to emerge and request that we move beyond race as the primary substance for our visual and/or emotional encounters with the work. These works rely heavily on the notion that there is an inner strength…and a sense of completeness put forth to engage the viewer.

Such a presence emerges from the actions of the artist during the creative process and whether the work reflects or does not reflect ethnic, gender or age references, it has the ability to reach out and say – “Hey, you can’t walk away without acknowledging my existence.” ”

-Larry Walker (Artist, Former Director and Retired Professor Emeritus, Welch School of Art and Design, Georgia State University)

Artists Included:

Alvaro Alvillar

Paul S. Benjamin

Joe Camoosa

Pat Drew

Christopher Hutchinson

Onyeka Ibe

Yun Liu

Yanique Norman

Charles Parham

Michael Scoffield

Kevin Sipp

Yi-Hsin Tzeng