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Visual Art as Conversation

Making visible the invisible is a formidable task, and that’s what Claudia Rankine set to out to do when she wrote her new play, The White Card. The story aims to start a conversation about race focused on whiteness and its unseeable impact on the world. Rankine is one among an army of artists channeling their creative energy into artistic works that make the invisible apparent, bringing a new perspective to discussion of race in America. Here are just a few of those artists cited by Rankine as producing excellent work in line with similar intentions to those found in The White Card.


Nate Lewis

Nate Lewis brings light to racial violence in an unexpected fashion, by distorting social media images of “violence against black bodies” to reflect the past and present of racial hate crimes.

Nate Lewis
cowboy, 2017

Lewis sculpts into black and white photographs with a scalpel, seeking to “deconstruct and investigate them,” cutting and carving them beyond recognition to spark emotion in the viewer. Lewis’ black and white images aim to reflect on images of the past and connect these modern, social media distributed images of violence to the same violent crimes that occurred in our collective past.


Mark Peterson

Peterson’s high contrast black and white photographs in his Charlottesville series capture the souls of Unite the Right from last August’s protest.

Mark Peterson
Charlottesville series, August 2017

Mark Peterson
Charlottesville series, August 2017

Peterson’s images theatrically capture the figures of protesters, many proudly touting swastikas, confederate flags, and logos for nationalist groups like Vanguard America, stand amongst their ranks like generals leading their troops.


Alexandra Bell

A Columbia Journalism graduate, Alexandra Bell sheds light on the hidden biases espoused by popular media relating to race and ethnicity. In public works that brutally edit and rewrite New York Times front page articles, Bell exposes the bends of headline news stories that the untrained eye might not notice.

Alexandra Bell
A Teenager With Promise, 2017

Bell’s work points to the fact that minorities are labelled as such by popular media—as an “other”—while their white assailants and murderers are mentioned both free from racial identities and with the benefit of the doubt. Bell edits down the articles about Michael Brown’s death and the police officer who shot him to the sentences “Officer Darren Wilson … fatally shot an unarmed black teenager named Michael  Brown” and “Michael Brown Jr… his shooting death by Darren Wilson, a white police officer.” This is only a singular example of the powerful edits Bell gives to New York Times articles, leaving the newly laid-out pages telling a story of our national biases well beyond the content of the original articles.


Sarah Duncan

Sarah Duncan
World Map 1 “After”, 2017

Duncan’s work aims to explore the way Americans discuss white violence and does so by dissecting three groups definitions of “white domestic terrorism.” The result of these surveys was the creation of three word maps, each with a “before” and “after.” The “before” maps simply document the words used, in alphabetical order, and with notation marking the most frequently used words. The “after” maps use the most frequent words, from which Duncan pulls and experiments with.


Richard Kraft

Richard Kraft has taken the ever more nebulous job of communicating news and turned it into a stunning video and image piece in the form of Yellow and Red Cards. Documenting every day for the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency with a soccer penalty-esque code of yellow and red cards, with additional light and dark blue cards to signal acts of good and Trump administration resignations respectively, Kraft aimed to “refuse the normalization of his ascendancy to an office for which he is completely unqualified.”

Richard Kraft
All the Yellow and Red Cards issued to Donald Trump: Key, 2018

To explore more of the work artists are doing to visualize whiteness, check out the first issue of the online “interdisciplinary cultural laboratory” The Racial Imaginary. To see what Claudia Rankine brings to the table in this racial discussion, come see The White Card, now playing through April 1st.

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