Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University

Alexandra Bell, Charlottesville, 2017. Site specific public wheat paste installation, 6.20x12 feet. Installation view, Pomona College, 2018. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Pomona College.

October 4, 2019
Examining Black/White Racial Constructs Through Art and Inquiry
October 5, 2019–January 5, 2020
Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University
601 W Broad St
23220 Richmond VA
Hours: Tuesday–Sunday 10am–5pm,
Friday 10am–9pm

“History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.”
—James Baldwin “The White Man’s Guilt” Ebony, 1965

Great Force addresses the force of whiteness, the counter-force of black resistance, and the persistence of the color line in the United States. With new commissions and recent work by twenty-four artists, the exhibition presents painting, sculpture, photography, video, and performance that examine race in the United States. The exhibition extends through three of the ICA’s galleries, and includes offsite works, performances, and public programs.

The Color Line
In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, writers and reformers such as Frederick Douglass and W.E.B Du Bois used the term ‘the color line’ to describe racial division and oppression in the United States and beyond. The color line describes this boundary, built by racism and protected by pseudo-science, the criminal code, segregation, and violence. History, designed and narrated in this way, privileges whiteness as the measure of humanity and in doing so inhibits the development of the American subject. Throughout this exhibition and accompanying publication, the color line provides us with a historical, conceptual, and visual boundary to push against America’s dominant narratives.

Richmond 2019
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the first recorded arrival of enslaved Africans to Hampton, Virginia in 1619. Richmond was the site of one of the largest slave auction markets in the United States, and continues to be haunted by that fact. This city was also the capital of the Confederate States of America which fought the United States to defend slavery. Monuments to the Confederacy still surround us. These realities allow for this place to become a locus for critical conversations around race relations. While Great Force concerns itself primarily with the color line that has separated black from white, it must be noted that many other groups were and continue to be brutalized by America’s color line.

The Counter Force
The works included in this exhibition foreground acts of resistance. Rather than offering explicit images of pain and subjugation or white domination, they use material and language to make apparent the cycles of history in the grip of white supremacy. In artmaking, when we demand artists of color rehearse radicality with images of pain, we neglect both the precarity and the heterogeneity of their lived experiences.

The artists and literary thinkers included in Great Force show us that culture is always in communication with both past and present, propelled by a desire for change and revision. Together, we must set aside the racial binaries defined by the color line and dismantle the structural supremacy that whiteness has constructed for itself—a task that demands a collective reimagining and reorganizing of American identity.

Great Force is curated by Amber Esseiva, Associate Curator, Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University.This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University
October 4, 2019

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