Sunday, July 21, 2013

Confronting the Impact of Profiling with Art

Frat Brother - 1994 by Rebekah Younger
acrylic and mirror on plywood
Do you feel threatened by this image?  If so, why? This weekend I was showing my work as part of Bath Artwalk's Open Studios.  Part of my display was placing my painted cutout figures in the hallway to draw attention to the entrance to my exhibit.  As I stated in my last post, these images are about how we judge people because of their appearance.  In the wake of the Trayvon Martin verdict this past week, racial profiling is making headlines, though it has been something I have been aware of my whole life, having been raised in the African American community as a white person.  These figures I painted nearly 20 years ago, but their message is as important today.  Each figure has a faceless person, with a mirror where the face should be to remind the viewer that they are both witnessing their own judgements and projections of other, as well as, asking them to put themselves in the other person's shoes. The back side of the figure is my interpretation of their spiritual body or soul.

"Frat Brother" provided me with a teaching moment today, when a neighboring artist came by and asked me to remove the figures from the hall because they were creating "negative energy."  With further conversation the woman said she didn't want her guests to feel intimidated and that the figure made her feel like she would be attacked. She claimed that she didn't notice that it was a black male figure, but how could she not?  I explained the meaning behind the work and that it was my intention to show them in this location through the weekend. She was clearly unsettled, not even aware of her programmed prejudice, a clear example of not so subtle racism. Time to confront the bias, the ignorance and the pain and suffering it causes. The figures stayed in the hall for the rest of the weekend.  I only wish that more people had the opportunity to encounter them and in turn themselves.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Painted Figure - Inner & Outer

What does it mean to be human?  To live both the inner and outer life?  The spiritual and secular?  Through my paintings and drawings I explore this subject.  "Soul Painter" (above) is a life size cutout in plywood, painted with acrylic.  One side expresses how we define ourselves by our clothing, our consumerism, putting on an identity like paper dolls.  As observers, we make judgements about others based on their attire. The face is replaced with a mirror to remind us that though we make assumptions based on appearances, ultimately what we think of others is a reflection of ourselves and unrelated to the actual person.  The reverse side of the figure depicts an expression of the soul or spiritual body, a more universal expression.  Both may be true, relative and absolute.  But who are we really?

This piece is part of a group of works being shown in Brunswick next weekend at Greenhut Studios at the Fort Andross Mill for Friday Art Walk, July 12, 5-8 pm.  You can see more of my explorations into the nature of the human experience, both individual and social that have been created over the last 25 years at the show, along with bronze sculpture by Marji Greenhut and poured glass by Angela Antolewicz & Ryan Helean.