Review and Interview of White Feelings at The Franklin

Guest writer Hiba Ali is a writer and digital media artist who holds two undergraduate degrees from the School of the Art Institute Chicago with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film, Video, New Media and Animation and a Bachelor of Arts in Visual Critical Studies. She volunteers for South Asian American Policy and Research Institute (SAAPRI), Indo-American Center (IAC) and publishes reviews about socially-engaged art in Newcity, THE SEEN and VAM Magazine. She has exhibited her digital media projects in Chicago (IL), New York (NY), Detroit (MI), Ann Arbor (MI), London (UK) and Dubai (UAE). She is a MFA in Transmedia candidate at UT Austin. 

In the backyard of the Garfield Park gallery space, The Franklin, White Feelings is on display. By “white feelings,” curator Bert Stabler is referring to “racialized effect” as “the emotional experience of racial identity.” Berg & Ramos-Zayas proposed in Racializing Affect:  A Theoretical Proposition, that “…white supremacy as a national and global strategy of constructing hegemony …situate [racialized] affect in structures and relations of power — including its entanglements with normativity, inequality, and violence.”

I checked out Bert Stabler’s Tumblr for White Feelings, and emailed him to learn more about the thoughts behind curating these works.

Marc Fischer / Public Collectors, Killed by Police, Risograph flyer, 2016
Marc Fischer / Public Collectors, Killed by Police, Risograph flyer, 2016

VAM: What started the “white feelings” discourse for you?

Bert Stabler: There was a sculpture placed in a public area on the University of Illinois campus on a day last December when, in that same area earlier the same day, the Black Students for Revolution had held a rally in opposition to a rally planned by the white-supremacist “White Student Union,” allegedly to oppose “Black and Islamic terrorism” or some racist horse shit like that. Excuse my language. The sculpture featured two white plaster hands supplicating under a collection of sawed-off beams poking through a sheet covered in red paint (to represent blood). I first saw the piece on the White Student Union site, being denounced as a threat whose message was “kill whitey.”

E. Aaron Ross, A Single Tear, HD Video 2016
E. Aaron Ross, A Single Tear, HD Video 2016

At that time I thought it may have ben a hoax created by the white supremacist group, but it turned out to be an art project by a perhaps clueless student, who titled the piece “Monument to Trauma.” The local newspaper wrote about the sculpture incident, and the College of Art + Design issued an online statement about the piece.

The sculpture inspired me to propose the show at the University’s Figure One Gallery to face, first and foremost, the culture of trolling and casual racism that this white-flight campus is known for. But of course racism is a global historical phenomenon, which these days cloaks itself in being “color-blind” while excusing and expressing violent words and deeds toward people of color. White Feelings is a hashtag criticizing entitlement and fragility, which I didn’t know consciously at the time of the proposal, but I was happy to realize soon enough.

How was the selection process for this exhibit?

I put out an open call on Facebook, posting on my own page and on the page of my gallery, the Outhaus, as well as on pages of art and politics groups that I’m part of. I reposted about it a number of times. I hung flyers on campus, and sent a number of emails and messages, trying to get a wide variety of artists to contribute work.

Who is your target audience for this exhibition? 

Anyone and everyone (although it’s not entirely kid-friendly). For people of color it might offer some interesting validation of their lived experience, whereas the hope is that white viewers might be seduced by narcissism, but then made uncomfortable by the reflection of themselves offered in the show.

How does the exhibit respond to the context of each neighborhood that it is being show in? (i.e. exhibit at UIC Urbana-Champaign in relation to White Student Union or in Garfield Park, a historically black [and now steadily gentrifying] neighborhood in Chicago)?

Hopefully my description of the show’s initial idea addresses the relationship to Urbana-Champaign. There were three artists based in Champaign in the original show, but all are students and none come from the town.

Adam Farcus, Refrain, commercially produced painting on panel, 2016
Adam Farcus, Refrain, commercially produced painting on panel, 2016

The most locally specific piece was the projection of a chalk drawing that said “I Drink White Tears,” created as part of a response to pro-Trump racist chalkings on the University quad by Black Students For Revolution member Sunny Ture (who participated in the panel discussion on 6/22).

In Chicago, I think the relationship between the Franklin and its context in Garfield Park is relevant to the show’s content. I’m white, the majority of the artists in the show are white, and the majority of visitors to the opening were white. I am very happy that Marc Fischer’s posters, describing specific white police officers murders of unarmed black people were there, and I know they made at least two people upset, as far as I know. One viewer objected to the message, while the other was sympathetic, but found it very distressing.

Read more of this interview and review on VAM, a Chicago based arts platform. 

White Feelings will be on view at The Franklin, 3522 W. Franklin Blvd, until August 27th. 

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