January 4 to February 3, 1991
“Racism: The generalized, permanent exploitation of real or imaginary differences, to the advantage of the accuser and to the detriment of his victim, for the purpose of justifying aggression.” – Encyclopedia Universalis.
Racism – pervasive throughout human history, responsible for humiliation, degradation, torture, death and even genocide.
What can art do in the face of all this? How can art address the ravaging effects of discrimination, yet not become involved in a ranting that reduces it to propaganda?
There is art that speaks of a new kind of history - a future of racial harmony. Fine as far as it goes, but however well-intentioned, that is unusually not very far. It is often reduced to naivety.
What can distinguish art is its penchant for inquiry and investigation. It has intellectual, emotive, and spiritual qualities. It exposes ambiguity and contradiction.
There is a movement in art that began in the late 1950s and deals with the sense that anything is possible – art can be made out of whatever materials, images and subjects that most readily come to hand. This unconstrained appropriation from popular culture can serve to create a dialogue between different levels of experience and society. It has been used as a vehicle to examine human psychology and our social and political mores. There is a powerful interplay between the artwork as an object in itself and as a symbol for another level of experience.
Most of us spend our lives protecting and defending ourselves. It may take the form of aggression, an “attitude,” insults and mockery of others. Others may be very quiet, camouflaged and hope to go unnoticed. Artists, on the other hand, expose themselves; they come out of their camouflage and stand naked, risking every possibility of scorn and abuse. They uncover those things that most need protection – the things they care about most or that frighten us the most.
“My art is an attempt to find symbols for that which I fear or hold in awe – ghosts, death, war, dissolution. I want to invest my work with magic,” – Michael Sandle.
As Marx and Engels long ago observed, art is a form of social consciousness, a special form that can awaken an urge in those affected by it to creatively transform their oppressive environments.
Art is special because of its ability to influence feelings as well as knowledge. It can function as a sensitizer and a catalyst, propelling people toward involvement in seeking effect social change.
So what about racism? Throughout history we have lived with a contradiction – we are attracted by difference yet we oppress it. The premise seems to be “You are different therefore you are not equal.” Power accrues to those with appropriate characteristics – white, male, Anglo-Saxon, middle class, heterosexual – in our society.
The end of discrimination will take continuing education, legal and political manoeuvring, and ultimately, broad masses of individuals willing to struggle for its eradication. In the end, it will be the will of the ordinary people, not governments that make these changes.
Despite their mythologizing, artists are ordinary people. In their work, they make our secret and innermost feelings visible so we can look at them slowly. They make them tangible so we can understand how others really feel.
Artistic practice can sensitize us to issues, can show the way to possibilities, can help us understand that change is not only possible, but necessary. It can make us imagine and desire that change.
Art neither attacks us nor tries to hide from us, it bravely invites our response. Sometimes people refuse to notice. Others respond by creating their own works of art, others by learning what we can do about the human condition. Whether we create or receive, we can respond most fully with action. We can lower our defense and determine to look and to listen and to feel with people around us regardless of differences of race, sex, physical characteristics, or religious faith.
This exhibition featured artwork by:
Christina Horeau, Will Julsing, Marcia Pitch, Lawrence Paul, Richard MacklinKlaus Staeck, Grace Channer, Judith Baca, Richard Tetrault, Clif Dawson, Robert Colescott, Andrew Jordan, Ken Jeannotte, Renee Rodin, Yvon Goulet, Hans Haacke, Jerry Rivard, Jeannie Kamins, Linda Wilson, Henner Schroder, Dyana Werden, Diana Li, Ken Akiva Segan, Leslie Poole, Robert Blake, Oruc Cakmakli, Jose Hernandez Delgadillo, Ismaila Manga, Barry Hall, Parkash, Alex Gigeroff, Fahera Zeba, Sugiyama, Nena Braathen, Renee Poisson, Kim McNeilley, Ingeborg Raymer, Khalil Chaaban, Sellolucas Malemane, Chris Creighton-Kelly, Laura Hackett, Nora Patrich, Pamela Mills, William Shumway, Renee Aeberhard, Jerry Schiedeman, Davide Pan and Pnina Granirer.
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