Last Wednesday night, The Center for Book Arts hosted a panel discussion with five artists, Tomie Arai, Michael Paul Britto, Jayson Keeling, Jason Lujan, and Karina Skvirsky, all featured in the Center’s current exhibition, Racism: an American Family Value. The night began with an introduction of each artist and brief presentations by each on their own work and influences. Family history, research, community collaboration, and daily experience were revealed as the inspiration that drives these artists to create.
Moderator Nicole Caruth started the discussion by addressing the idea of “post-racial,” a term introduced in the events of the presidential election to suggest that the election of President Obama stood as evidence that American society has entered a post-racial era. Are we living in a post-racial society?
The artists seemed in agreement that we are not, but also that this is not the pressing question. What would a post-racial society look like? Is that image part of an ideal we would strive for? And as Tomie Arai put it, “where do we stand in relation?” The common understanding of post-racial is of a society beyond race, where race is no longer relevant and racism does not exist. Jason Lujan rejected the term as a misnomer, suggesting instead “post-tolerance” as a better name for the goal of a society beyond race, beyond discrimination and beyond the bitter effects of both.
It was clear from the discussion in the printshop last Wednesday that we have not reached that point. The idea of race and the words used to explore this idea invoke strong feelings. Anger and indignity were expressed, particularly by attendees who saw their lives in direct opposition to intolerance. Speaking about race and the history of its damages causes pain, but works created by artists like those featured in the current exhibition address that pain and initiate the dialogues that society must have.
By Carrie Tuccio, Intern at the Center for Book Arts.
Racism: An American Family Value, was co-organized by Amos Paul Kennedy, Artist, Educator, and Independent Curator; and Alexander Campos, Executive Director of the Center for Book Arts. The exhibition will be on view through September 12, 2009.