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Los Angeles

18th Street Arts Center

Exhibition Detail
Cross Sections
1639 18th St.
Santa Monica, CA 90404


April 7th, 2007 - June 15th, 2007
Opening: 
April 7th, 2007 6:00 PM - 8:30 PM
 
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Cross Sections examines identities related to race, gender, and sexuality by a diverse group of artists.  These twelve emerging and mid-career artists speak to their personal experiences and observations and have pictured themselves or people with whom they can identify or relate.  Working in photography, painting, sculpture, and video, they explore the ways in which they situate themselves within and find connections to these broad classifications.  The exhibition images confront the viewer with insight, emotion, and unflinching observations.

MonaLisa Whitaker has created self-portraits in opposing costume and attitude representing expected norms of masculine and feminine appearance and behavior.  Laura Aguilar photographs her nude body in nature as abstracted forms that force us to confront our own ideas about beauty and sensuality.  Lisa Diane Wedgeworth’s examination of the texture, movement, and style of African American women’s hair encourages a dialogue about the acceptance or rejection of cultural signifiers, self-identity, social interaction, and conformity with societal expectations.  Hank Willis Thomas transposes the physical symbol of ownership, the flesh-searing brand, onto the commercial landscape of corporate labeling and the objectification of the African American male body.  Alex Donis offers the viewer an unexpected space of suspended animation in which the antagonistic relationship between street-gang members and police officers become homoerotic encounters involving dance.

CURATOR STATEMENT:
Race, gender, and sexuality are seemingly simple and rarely questioned taxonomic categories that often order human beings in relation to their proximity and access to the power structures of society. 

Racial theories are social constructs aggressively pursued by nineteenth-century Europeans and Americans eager to provide scientific justifications for the subjugation, domination, and exploitation of groups who looked different and came from cultures materially and technologically different, and who, therefore, must be mentally and biologically inferior.  These subjective and arbitrary classifications became firmly entrenched in the hierarchy of the social, political, and economic systems of our society.  Although common physical characteristics such as skin color and physiognomy obviously exist within groups, and members of particular communities tend to marry and associate with people of similar appearance, race has no biological basis or distinct boundaries but consists of the cultural and social customs, shared history, and common geographical locations of a given group.

Women have similarly been relegated to powerless positions.  Designated as “the weaker sex”, women have historically been denied the rights of their male counterparts.  While feminist ideology has roots in the late nineteenth century, postmodern feminists have been dismissed by many as militant, hard, man-hating lesbians.  Women of color, however, have often been subjected to intersecting oppressions by Black menand White women.  African American women’s needs were of secondary importance to male civil rights leaders as racial equality was the primary focus.  White feminist leaders concerned themselves with gender equality while ignoring the realities of non-White women.  While the physical manifestations of gender can be altered through surgery, hormones, and/or clothing, it is an inherent psychological identity with qualities that sometimes cross the masculine/feminine divide.

Sexual identity that deviates from traditional and religious ideology continues to be the basis for prejudicial harassment and the denial of basic legal rights.  These ideas have created an atmosphere of intense hatred and fear that has sent social conservatives scrambling for legislative protection of marriage and the American family.  Homophobia is a socially and politically acceptable form of oppression that often regurgitates similar arguments against African American civil rights and interracial marriage.  The scientific and medical communities overwhelmingly agree that sexuality is an unchangeable identity, yet religious leaders and politicians persist in their opinion that homosexuality is a pathological condition.   

Anthropologist Audrey Smedley says that race is about “who should have access to privilege, power, status, and wealth, and who should not.”  The same can be said of particular gender and sexual identities.

This exhibition is about these identities and explores the ways in which artists situate themselves within and find connections to these broad classifications.  What is most important is how the artists address these identities.  It is not my intention to define, nor do I believe it is my role to do so, these distinctions for the artists nor any degree of acceptance or rejection of racial, gendered, or sexual boundaries by the artists.  While there are certainly other signifiers of identity, such as class, religion, politics, and education, their inclusion is not possible without diluting my central concerns.  White, heterosexual male artists rarely explore these issues as societal power structures are based upon their identities.  Whereas an African American, heterosexual male artist may address race, or a Hispanic lesbian may portray her identity in terms of race, gender, and sexuality, each may also reject these distinctions. 

- Bruce Picano

 

CURATOR BIO:
Bruce Picano is an independent curator who returned to the study of art history after many years in business.  He has served as Assistant Curator for exhibitions at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery and the Luckman Fine Art Gallery at California State University Los Angeles, including
Reaction: African American Art in Los Angeles 1945-1965, Aline Barndall’s Olive Hill Project, Daniel Douke: Endless Instant, and Kim Jones: A Retrospective.  He recently finished his BA in art history at UCLA, and plans to pursue post-graduate studies concentrating on race, gender, and sexuality in the context of modern and contemporary American art.  Since 2003, he has served as Archivist Chair on the Board of Directors for the Fellows of Contemporary Art of Los Angeles.

 

ARTIST BIOS:

Laura Aguilar
Laura Aguilar is a self-taught photographer who lives and works in Rosemead, California.  She is the recipient of numerous awards, including a residency at ArtPace, San Antonio, the California Community Foundation’s J. Paul Getty Grant for the Visual Arts, the James D. Phelan Art Award for Photography, and a California Arts Council Fellowship.  Her work has been shown in national and international exhibitions, has been featured in many periodicals and books, and is in several public collections.  She is represented by Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.

Cathy Begien
San Francisco's dilettante, Cathy Begien, was born in Singapore but raised in Saudi Arabia and Southern California.  She attended UC Santa Cruz for writing and then moved to San Francisco.  Begien has participated in several film festivals and group shows (including The Getty Center and Angela Hanley Gallery in Los Angeles), and is represented by Winkleman Plus Ultra Gallery in New York.  When not busy hiding in her closet (her production studio is known as Closet Arts), she can be found face down on a blanket in Dolores Park.

Lavialle J. Campbell
Lavialle Campbell is a native of Los Angeles who completed her academic art education at UCLA in 1997 after attending Otis Parsons Extension where she studied environmental design.  She also studied at the Santa Monica College of Design.  Shortly after leaving UCLA, she became the Seagram’s Gin Artist-In-Residence at the California African-American Museum.  Lavialle has shown extensively in the Los Angeles area over the past several years.

Alex Donis
Alex Donis was born in 1964 in Chicago, IL and received his undergraduate degree at California State University, Long Beach and his graduate degree from Otis College of Art & Design.  Donis has exhibited his work at the Armand Hammer Museum of Art & Culture; the Santa Monica Museum of Art; the Geffen Contemporary (MOCA); the Laguna Museum of Art; Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE); the Mexican Museum, San Francisco; Randolph Street Gallery, Chicago; Galeria de la Raza, San Francisco; Pretoria Arts Museum, South Africa; and Artspace, Sydney, Australia.  His work was recently included in the landmark exhibition "Made in California: Art, Image, & Identity 1900-2000" at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  He has been featured in FlashArt International, Artweek, the Los Angeles Times, La Opinion, the Chicago Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the Sydney Morning Herald.  Alex has been awarded residencies at the University of Texas, Austin; the Brandywine Institute, Philadelphia; and Artspace, Sydney, Australia.  He is currently represented by Sherry Frumkin Gallery in Santa Monica.

Carlee Fernandez
Carlee Fernandez, born in Santa Ana, California, 1973, received her MFA from Claremont Graduate University and currently lives in Los Angeles.  Her work is represented by Acuna-Hansen Gallery in Los Angeles and Platform Gallery in Seattle. Fernandez’s work has been reviewed in Art in America, published in Art Tomorrow and an upcoming publication of Sculpture Today.  In 2008, Fernandez’s work will be included in an exhibition titled “Phantom Sightings” at The Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Ulysses Jenkins
Ulysses Jenkins is a video/performance artist who earned an M.F.A. in Intermedia Video/Performance Art at Otis College of Art, Los Angeles in 1979, and a B.A. in Painting/Drawing at Southern University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1969.  Mr. Jenkins has taught video production (lecturer) at the University of California San Diego (1979-81) and Otis College of Art (1982-84), and performance art at California State University Dominguez Hills (1981).  He is currently an Associate Professor of video art production and performance art at the University of California Irvine (1993-2007).  He is also an Affiliate Professor with the African American Studies program at the University of California Irvine.

Michael Massenburg
Michael Massenburg was born in San Diego and studied at California State University, Long Beach and Otis Art Institute.  He is the recipient of grants from the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department and the California Arts Council.  Massenburg serves as the current President of the Board of Directors of Sheenway School, is Lead Chairperson for the Inglewood Cultural Arts program, and co-founder of The Collective, a support group for African American artists and community development.  He is represented by M. Hanks Gallery in Santa Monica.

Stacy Pyles
An Inglewood, California native, Stacy Pyles is a professionally trained Screenwriter and Director.  After earning a M.F.A. in Film from California College of the Arts (San Francisco), Stacy held concurrent seats in the prestigious Warner Bros. 2003 Comedy Writing Workshop and Dr. Bill Cosby’s acclaimed 2003 Screenwriting Fellowship.  Her MFA thesis film, “Combing Thru the Kinks”, a comedic look at African American women and their hair dramas, joys, and dilemmas, premiered at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery and garnered national acclaim, press recognition, and medals at numerous film festivals across the country.  Currently, the film is being used as an academic tool at top Universities and Colleges in Women’s Studies, Ethnic Studies, and African American Studies departments.  Stacy completed her undergraduate coursework at the University of California, at Berkeley in Mass Communications and African American Studies.

Hunter Reynolds & Maxine Henryson
Maxine Henryson, an artist photographer, who is interested in sexual identity and gender politics began working with Hunter Reynolds in 1992 when he was performing as his alter ego Patina du Prey.  Reynolds developed the persona in order to confront the relationship of homophobia in the arts in 1989.  He is a visual artist, working with performance, sculpture and photography.  Reynolds is represented by Mary Goldman Gallery in Los Angeles.

Henry Taylor
Henry Taylor is a Los Angeles-based painter who received his B.A. from California Institute of the Arts in 1995.  His work has been featured in numerous exhibitions, including at Sister, Los Angeles, Daniel Reich, New York, Cal Arts, and Peres Projects, Berlin.  Henry currently has a show at the Studio Museum in Harlem.  He is represented by Sister.

Hank Willis Thomas
Hank Willis Thomas received his BFA in Photography and Africana Studies from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University in 1998.  A visual artist as well as a practiced writer, he is keenly interested in notions of identity perception, commodity culture, and the impact of violence in African American communities.  A graduate from the California College of the Arts with an MFA in Photography and an MA in Visual Criticism, Thomas’ photographs have been published in numerous books, including
Winter in America, Reflections in Black: A History of African American Photographers, and 25 Under 25: Up-and-Coming America Photographers.  His work has been exhibited in galleries and museums internationally, and has been reviewed in publications such as Art + Auction, Artforum, the Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, and The New York Times.  Included in the permanent collections of the International Center for Photography, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Studio Museum in Harlem, Thomas’ work is currently featured in the California Biennial at the Orange County Museum of Art.

Lisa Diane Wedgeworth
Lisa Diane Wedgeworth, a native of Los Angeles, studied photography at Howard University and earned her B.A. degree in studio art from CSULA.  Lisa is intrigued by memory and the ways in which cultural beliefs and personal information are passed from one generation to another.  She is currently working on a series of photographs that document street altars.  

MonaLisa Whitaker
MonaLisa Whitaker is a visual artist and arts advocate who works with various youth and cultural organizations in the Los Angeles area.  A Los Angeles native, she has earned an Associate of Art in Studio Art from El Camino College and an Occupational Certificate in Photography from Santa Monica College.  Her award winning work has been exhibited throughout the state.  Since 2001, she has been the Executive Director of Inglewood Cultural Arts, a non-profit multidisciplinary arts organization.  She is a graduate of the 2003-2004 Leadership Development in Interethnic Relations (LDIR) program, a workshop that focuses on cultivating and supporting leadership with regard to race, culture, class, sexual orientation and gender.

 

ARTIST STATEMENTS:

Laura Aguilar
The female body and its relationship to nature is an ongoing concern for Laura Aguilar, who here shows color photographs of her nude body in the desert.  Mountains of flesh become abstracted forms merging into the landscape.  By fetishizing her own fleshy body, she challenges traditional notions of beauty and asserts a powerful declaration of self love in the face of ever-increasing pressure to conform to narrow standards of beauty.

Laura says of her work: “One Sunday morning I was in the bathtub and I looked down at my stomach and thought ‘Oh, boy my stomach is so large.’  Not that I didn’t already know it was large, but I was thinking visually of the vast untouched landscape of my body.  I started thinking about being nude in nature and being touched by the warmth of the sunlight, and wanted to get back outdoors to the sun and the blowing wind to feel that touch again.  I don’t get a lot of touch in my life.  I was thinking about my body and the landscape and the vastness of the open space because it gives me comfort and protection.  I started taking the nude portraits about ten years ago.  In my images, I feel beautiful and very safe and comfortable.  I am a large person and not necessarily beautiful in others’ conception of beauty, but I can see my own beauty, my presence, and the peace I have at that moment in the images.  I’ve always done my work for me and to discover myself.  I am still heavy and large, and still dealing with the health issues that I will probably struggle with until the day I die.  Through my art I feel comfort with and more connection to my body.  I still battle with depression and thoughts of suicide, but when I look at my photographs I have hope; it is ultimately my work, and the reactions to it, that bring me peace.”

Cathy Begien
My video,
Interview with the Hopeless and the Life Story of the Romantic, was created in response to the Edinburgh Castle Romance Film Night.  It is one of three, which I call The Straight Girl Series: Because They’re Girls Too
I guess you could say it displays the reality of being attracted to someone, and  that universal ambiguity that the attraction creates in the questions we choose to ask, such as “Are they gay?” versus “Do they like me?”  There is no blatant queer dialog except for what you see...or what you choose to see.

Lavielle Campbell
My work portrays personal and historical themes reflecting a deep appreciation of my cultural heritage.  My work also deals with the struggles of women and reflects my commitment to fuse artistic excellence with an expression of compelling issues of the day.  I work in a variety of artistic media, with a current emphasis on mixed media and ceramic sculpture.  I find that these media give me the freedom to interpret and bend, depending upon the subject I am cultivating. 
Waste is a piece from my breast cancer series.  It speaks to the problems concerning African American women and their lack of access to medical care due to poverty or an inability to obtain health insurance, and to the tragedy of being denied care until their disease has progressed to dangerous levels.  Conversely, it also speaks to the many African American women who shun medical treatment because they believe that their womanhood would be diminished with the removal of a breast.  I know of women who have forgone surgery, and died as a result, because they did not want to “lose their man.”  I also knew a woman who died because she feared that a male doctor would butcher her body during surgery.  The multiple breasts inside and overflowing from the garbage-can represent these women's lives.

Alex Donis
Alex Donis is a Los Angeles-based visual artist whose work examines and redefines the boundaries set within religion, politics, race, and sexuality.  Interested in toppling society’s relationship to icons, his work is often influenced by a tri-cultural (Pop, Latin, & Queer) experience.  He has worked extensively in a variety of media including painting, installation, video, and works on paper.

He writes of his work: “the WAR paintings that I created in 2001 for the Watts Towers Arts Center were ultimately censored by the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department.  Regarding this body of work, I see myself positioned squarely in the middle of that imagined sensual space and thumping rhythm between an LAPD officer and a gang-banger – a ‘hip-hugging’ place where war has (momentarily) ended.”

Carlee Fernandez
I’ve always envied men.  They have power, aggressiveness and true, plain beauty.  My latest body of work,
Man, explores my internal struggles with the better of the sexes.  The impetus to this work is a black and white photograph of my father at 19, and oddly enough, I look just like him.  In the photograph he has a macho pose, legs apart, his hands in his pockets, and set against a typical Southern California canyon landscape: he looks like a man.  He is wearing army boots, a thick leather belt, jeans, a watch, and a black pocket tee with thin white stripes.  There was only one item of clothing missing from my wardrobe to match his in the photo.  I didn’t have the t-shirt, so I painted my own.  A friend of mine and I hiked to a similar canyon to shoot my photo.  I wore the clothes, pulled my hair back and took his confident stance.  I even got the desert flower in front of my right leg, just like his.  However, I left one important detail untouched, his mustache.  It is the only characteristic that obviously separates us in the two photographs.  The diptych is titled Self Portrait: Portrait of My Father, Manuel Fernandez.

Using the image of my Father as the initiator, I extended the invitation to include other influential men that have formed my life.  I’ve chosen images of known artists (or images of their work that represent them), film directors, musicians and more intimately, included ex-boyfriends and even my own pet German Shepherd.  The contemporary self-portraiture of my body physically next to or entwined with images of masculinity is resolved into photographs, video and sculpture.  This work is my darkly confusing solution to the envy of “man.”

Ulysses Jenkins
Planet X is construed of two myths: one of ancient origins and the other by an African-American avant-garde musical mystic.  Both of these revolve around an uncertain future.  The first is based upon the 6,000 year old Sumerian descriptions of our solar system that includes a planet they called “Nibiru”, which means “Planet of the Crossing”, and the predictions of an asteroid or comet colliding with Earth.  The second interfaces with the effects of hurricane Katrina and the plight of African Americans living in the 9th ward of the city of New Orleans, one of largest Black communities in the USA.  In an interview (by Tom Schnable of KCRW 89.9fm) the late Sun Ra told of a prophesy related to the future conditions of black peoples.  The 9th ward, deriving of the original slave trade populations, makes his predictions very significant to the matching of these two myths both economically and spiritually, as well as, their global impacts.  My work is derived from an African griot tradition, wherein the griot is a storyteller/chronicler of his or her community.  They are the oral keepers of the histories of tribal societies, and deliver their tales by way of ritualistic music.  I utilize new technologies of media as the instrument of distribution and dissemination.  The central importance of this work pertains to the fragility and vulnerabilities of our times and the plight of human existence.

Michael Massenburg
I make art that has a social purpose: to inform, inspire, and provoke thinking and communication.  For me, art is a language.  Through it I communicate and, at the same time, open up space for people to communicate with each other.  To expand the scope of this communication, I constantly search to create new forms and styles within my work.  This opens up new possibilities in my art and the social connections it inspires.  For me, art achieves these things more effectively than other forms of communication because of its truthfulness.  My style makes use of concrete and figurative materials in order to illuminate and make manifest real things; this connects the work to people, as well as to a truthful essence.  I make art from the materials of the world, of life.

Personal experience informs my work as well.  For most of my life I have lived in Los Angeles.  The city’s complicated combinations of openness and isolation, wealth and poverty, showiness and obscurity, insouciance and intensity, relaxation and aggressiveness, translate into a rich set of themes and images in my work.  My current project focuses on this tension and the conflicted, paradoxical nature of the city.  Entitled Lost Angels, this series of large, multimedia works uses two haunting events in the history of Los Angeles, and my life, as bookends: the 1965 Watts Riot and the 1992 Uprising.

Hunter Reynolds & Maxine Henryson
Maxine Henryson, an artist photographer, who is interested in sexual identity and gender politics began working with Hunter Reynolds in 1992 when he was performing as his alter ego Patina du Prey.  Reynolds developed the persona in order to confront the relationship of homophobia in the arts in 1989.  He is a visual artist, working with performance, sculpture and photography.

Patina exists as a mythical figure defined by both male and female signifiers.  She deliberately includes Reynolds’s “maleness” with her lack of both false breasts and wigs. Drawing on this disruption of gender icons, Patina relates to his/her audience as a shamanistic, transgendered embodiment of fantasy and healing.  Maxine Henryson’s color photographs construct a visual biography comprised of episodes in Patina du Prey’s life.  When photographing Patina, Henryson searches out evocative moments; using her camera, she creates true fictions.  Cumulatively, these photographs, like memories and dreams, create a non-linear visual narrative.  Henryson’s photographic eye, like a satellite, captures the world that comes between her lens and Patina’s flowing white dress.  Playing with notions of gender as performance, identity, transformation, healing, and the goddess, the artists flip traditional gender roles.  Patina, the cross-dressed male performance artist, and the passerby all become subjects of Henryson’s female gaze and the art work as an aleatoric event.  Both playful and confrontational the compelling and beautiful images, as seen here in Carousel, Antwerp, challenge us to think of gender roles as inherently multiple and easily susceptible to subversion just as they indicate that the work of art arises from the chance mixture of the artist’s performance and the social landscape in which it takes place. 

Hank Willis Thomas
 The B®ANDED series is part of an ongoing exploration of the language and affects of advertising.  I have always been in awe of commercial marketing methods in the modern media.  What makes a corporate sign so alluring?  Through ad campaigns, a simple logo can be embedded with enough meaning to fuel a multi-billion dollar global industry.   When considering the historical significance of the slave and cotton trade industries of centuries past, I find a curious connection between the African American male body and the marketing of clothes and sports.  I am interested in using the ubiquitous language of advertising to bring forth conversations about social and historical issues too often overlooked. Through this work I hope to create dialogues about commodity, violence, race and branding in the 21st century and how they have been shaped by the past.

Lisa Diane Wedgeworth                                                                  
Growing up in the 70's, I viewed my mother and her friends as sophisticated artists.  They were extremely creative and confident when it came to styling their hair.  They wore naturals or Afros, sometimes a covadis (very low cut), pressed it and even covered it with their “hats” (wigs).  I loved watching my mother and her friends, envying adulthood and impatiently waiting the day when I too could express myself wearing various hairstyles.  These women loved being themselves: creative, independent women.  Never did I hear them envy the straight hair of a non-black woman or refer to the process of pressing their hair straight as being superior in style to the natural.   They were free to choose any style in which to manipulate their hair while being authentic to themselves.  Choosing a hairstyle was no different than choosing an accessory to wear for a particular event.

Outside of my home, I witnessed behavior that suggested that not all black women or girls felt as free as my mother and her friends.  Young girls enviously eyed the new girl in school with the “good hair”, which meant a black girl with straight or long wavy hair.  Boys sought the girl with the good hair.  In a fit of anger, there was no worse verbal ammunition to the soul than a reference to having hair that was a snap of a finger long, which meant short, bad, nappy hair.  I recall walking the streets wearing my hair natural during the 1992 LA riot and a young black man yelling “get your ass to a salon!” as he drove by.  On another occasion, a West Indian woman in a fit of road rage called me a “nappy head bitch.”  I was stunned.  Not by her words, but by the fact that a woman that looked like me would use the hair that we had in common as a weapon to hurt me.  At that moment, I truly understood self-hatred.

Black girls have been taught that if their hair is not straight or wavy, then it is bad.  These affirmations of the unfortunateness of one’s hair may be expressed during a mother’s frustration at trying to tame a young girl’s hair, or in the comparison of “why couldn’t you have good hair like your cousin so and so.”  Often, it is implied in descriptions of how and why a girl or woman is deemed beautiful, while the descriptions used do not include any that you own.

What is most disturbing about these confrontations over the natural state of a black girl’s or woman’s hair is not only that they occur, but that they are generally expressed by other black people.  One female friend shared how a man approached her on the street and exclaimed how beautiful she would be “if only she’d straighten her hair.”  My sister, while working as a hostess at a popular eatery, tells tales of overhearing black women discuss that they would choose a Caucasian, Latino, or Asian suitor so their children would come out “cute with good hair.” 

It would be inaccurate and unfair to claim that every black girl in this country has been told by their mothers that their naturally kinky hair is bad.  Some of us have had the great fortune to be raised in environments where our mothers and aunties have loved their kinky hair, instilling in us a  sense of pride and love for our African ancestors who left evidence of their existence in our hair. Even so, when we venture out into the world, we are confronted with the beliefs and ignorance of others about our hair that force us to make a personal philosophy about who we are and how and why we choose to style our hair in a particular way.

The Hair Study photograms I created are just that: studies about texture, movement, and style without the distraction of color, or simply being a photograph of a hairstyle.  Hair Study is also about memory.  Hair memory.  They are depictions of moments in the past that I have seen, heard, or expressed.  The way a young girl’s twists bounce in the air as she jumps double-dutch, or hang when she is upside down on the bars of a jungle gym.  The graceful curl of a lock of hair or the left over kink in a pick.  Or my recollection of being a young girl and asking my mother why my pubic hair didn’t look anything like the hair on my head, and secretly envying my vagina for having nicer hair than that on my head.

MonaLisa Whitaker
“Duality 1 and 2” are visual representations of how I view myself and the roles that I play in life.  Although born an African American female, I’ve always received conflicting messages about what that means.  Do I assume a feminine/submissive role or do I take on a masculine/assertive persona?  As an African American woman, the expectation is usually some strange combination of the two, which can have a detrimental effect upon professional/personal relationships.  This has led to perpetual questions: What does it mean to be an African American woman?  How do I do it?  Why is that different from women of other ethnicities?  Why am I expected to behave or dress in a certain way, rather than what suits me?  What does it mean to be a man?  To be an African American man?  Why are certain behaviors and clothing classified as feminine or masculine?  Why is one labeled weak, the other strong?

Despite the fact that we are all biologically similar until approximately the seventh week of gestation, once the child is born and doctors view the genitalia, the child is labeled as “girl” or “boy.”  So begins a long tradition of expectations/behaviors/attitudes.  Immediately, parents, family members and society treat the child accordingly.  Girls are dressed in pink, given dolls, and told it’s OK to cry.  Boys are dressed in blue, given trucks and sports paraphernalia, and told boys don’t cry.  Because children are basically a clean slate, at a very young age she/he starts to identify with these items as representative of herself/himself.

While this tradition supports the existing power structure of male dominance/patriarchy, it truly wreaks havoc on a person’s identity.  What if a girl prefers climbing trees or a boy prefers to play with dolls?  The parents quickly “correct” these preferences by directing the child’s energy where it “should” be.  Why must a person’s identity be prescribed by heterosexism?

The influence of patriarchy and cultural attitudes on gender identity plays a more dominant role when ethnicity/race is considered.  If the female standard is blonde, blue-eyed and you are NOT, you will receive messages from everywhere in your life that you can ALMOST change.  You can straighten and dye your hair, wear colored contacts and even lighten your skin!  However, the truth is, at some point (sometimes sparked by an experience/conflict) you realize that this is futile because people will judge you based on their preconceived notions about who you are, how you dress, your behavior, etc.

These images were created with the hopes of raising questions within the viewer's mind about how she/he identifies, and why and what it truly means for society.  For me, it is essential for a person to have a palette of characteristics from which to choose in creating who they are, how she/he sees herself/himself, and how she/he identifies.


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