White Wash Artist Statement:

Art has the power to transform people, spaces and communities. As a white, female artist, I have recognized that my artwork can be used to bring people together across difference and to call out inequitable power structures we exist in and that I benefit from. As Nato Thompson discusses in his book, Culture As Weapon, creativity has been used as a means of control. Media and messaging use artistic practice to encourage people to buy things, oppress others, build empires and spread propaganda. Living within a cultural environment where creative outputs are used in this manner, I asked myself, what is the role of the artist?

I have found my role to be twofold. Through community arts practice and curatorial projects, I bring people together through art-making to celebrate, communicate and create joyous space of connection. Through my personal visual arts practice, I create artwork that disrupts the constant visual narrative driving a culture of greed, oppression and mythical stories– a history that erases a violent past based in racism, enslavement and genocide. If alternate narratives compete in visible and audible ways with the primary narrative, they create a spaces for truths that expand our understanding of where we are and the history that got us here. Especially for me, as a white person, finding ways to bring to light the ugly past of white people in the United States and the reality that this past continues to benefit white people in our present is critical. These truths of continued oppression, police brutality, structural racism, etc. are often invisible and/or actively ignored by white people. By making inequities and injustice visible my work attempts to fight this naive unknowing and/or purposeful disregard.

This line of thinking has led me to the White Wash, an installation that attempts to cleanse the viewer of white supremacy by inviting them through an installed experience that mimics that of the car wash. At the entrance a felt mitter curtain drags over the viewer in a nod to Joseph Beuys and his felt installations. As one proceeds, other car wash-esque pieces surround the viewer, with the sound of washing in the background. Upon emerging, one encounters a series of prints and sculptures about white women who are called out for their role in racism and white supremacy. Looping around, a ladder appears, jutting from the wall like a Donald Judd installation with the words of Tema Okun's Ladder of Empowerment for White People. Viewers are invited to share stories of what helped them climb toward working in a way that supported equity and liberation or experiences that knocked them back into patterns of inequity.

My focus on white woman is because I am one. As such white women benefit from white supremacy but are also oppressed because of patriarchy. This in-between provides an opportunity to act either as victim or oppressor. Throughout history too many white women have gained power by continuing to oppress people of color. This series of work includes instances I have seen or experienced, women who gained notoriety in the media because of something racist they said or did and who are not often called out directly. White women throughout history continue to oppress in this manner in order to leverage additional power.

As Paula Vogel writes in her play Indecent, “How do we as artists question our sins in front of a greater audience?” This line struck me as akin to what I am doing in my work. I believe it will only be through the admittance of the sins of racism that anything will change toward a greater and larger good. Art has the power to transform and can be used in this ongoing battle for truth. As long as white women and artists remain complicit in the systems of inequity that surround us, and without acknowledging this complicity, we will be unable to have the impact we desire.

This installation was on view at Maryland Institute College of Art April 19 - May 5, 2019.