Thursday, April 21, 2011

Art and Racial Stereotypes

In 2006, there was an art exhibition about stereotypes in Charlotte, NC. In an article about the work, the curator said, "Investigating stereotypes in the arts can increase self-awareness and can stimulate tolerance and awareness in the viewer."

I couldn't agree with this more.

Art is a terrific way to bring up issues in our culture that are otherwise difficult to discuss, especially in the classroom. In today's case, I am going to introduce you to some artists whose work deals with racial stereotypes.

Weems spoke at the NAEA conference last year. In some instances, she took old photographs and put captions on the end of them that make you think about the image. Most of her work deals with African American stereotypes. I think these are fantastic & they open a lot of dialogue about race and progress.

Hemami is an Iranian-born conceptual artist. Around the time of 9/11, she found a blurred out image of 70 of America's "most wanted" international terrorists. Even though the image was blurred, you could still gather enough information about the people to tell that they were middle eastern. She recreated these "portraits" using different media. One of the images below is a curtain made in beads, doubly signifying the exotic stereotype of Iran. What do you think she is trying to say with this work? Does it make you uncomfortable? Does the anonymity of the subjects make you feel safer?

My multicultural art ed teacher has showed us work by Luna many times over the past month. Luna is a Native American artist who has done a performance piece called "Take a Picture With a Real Indian". In this performance, he provides 3 cardboard cutouts of himself. One is dressed in a loin cloth, another is wearing a headdress and a beaded chest piece, and the other is in regular clothes but with braided hair. The audience gets to choose which one they would like to have their picture taken with, so it turns into a sociological experiment, questioning our values and stereotypes. Often, Luna will dress up himself and stand in for one of the cutouts.

Stereotyping people from the middle east has become a huge issue in the United States in the past decade. Since 9/11, I have seen countless numbers of racially insensitive bumper stickers, among other cultural infractions. Tarek Al-Ghoussein is a photographer from Kuwait who has taken advantage of the stereotypes of his culture. He has created these amazing self portraits to almost mock the American idea of middle easterners. The unfortunate truth is that most Americans will believe that these types of images are exactly what the middle east looks like, and some really do believe that everyone walks around with a turban on their head. I present these images to you to challenge your own stereotypes, not to extend your fiction.

Alvear's yo so el otro and yo soy la otra ("I am the other" in male and female conjugations) is a series based on the work of Joaquin Pinto. In this series, he photographs 4 individuals of different races in four different outfits, challenging the way we perceive a certain group of people. (click the images to see them full-sized)

I wanted to end with a work by Margaret Kasahara called Pick a Stereotype:

If you have any other artists who deal with racial stereotypes that you would like me to post about, please send me an e-mail!

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