A collection of artistic work that explores the topics of race, racism and privilege can be found at KickstART Farmington, 33304 Grand River Ave., through August.

A collection of artistic work that explores the topics of race, racism and privilege can be found at KickstART Farmington, 33304 Grand River Ave., through August.

Photo by Jonathan Shead


KickstART exhibit explores racism, privilege through art

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published August 25, 2020

 Laura Earle’s “White Fragility” hangs next to other artistic work.

Laura Earle’s “White Fragility” hangs next to other artistic work.

Photo by Jonathan Shead

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FARMINGTON — A new traveling exhibit at the KickstART Farmington Gallery & Shop tackles racism head-on and sheds light on the plight of minorities and the privilege that’s carried, sometimes unconsciously, by white people living in a racially charged world.

“Unraveling Racism: Seeing White” is inspired by the Peabody nominated podcast “Seeing White.” The exhibit will be on display at KickstART through September.

Farmington Hills artist and exhibit facilitator Laura Earle brought together the 20 Michigan artists featured in the exhibit after she encountered some racist graffiti on her studio in 2016. She quickly turned to her Black artist friends for help.

“Of course, that’s the classic faux pas. A white person who wants to understand racism better turns to their Black friends to explain it to them, but one of my friends said to me, ‘Well, it’s a really tough subject and there’s a lot to learn, but there’s this podcast I think you’d like,’” Earle explained of how she found “Seeing White.”

As conversations among the artists went from formal meetings at a centralized location to potluck dinners at one artist’s house, and as friendships began to form around individuals sharing their diverse experiences and perspectives, so did the exhibit of works they created.

“There was a lot of very personal growth and struggle that happened from all sides. That work started to translate into art,” Earle said. “Whatever resonated with them and whatever they wanted to explore, and we’re willing to present to the public for them to explore, we gave everyone complete freedom to do that.”

The group began to explore topics of redlining, the Human Genome Project, what it means being a biracial person walking the line between white-passing and the Black community, or how to address privilege as a white person. Through their reflection and artistic creation, they opened the door for viewers to come alongside them to understand and explore more.

“Visual art offers a glimpse into the inner workings of an artist’s mind, but it also allows the viewer to contemplate on the intricate and varied experiences of BIPoC (Black, indigenous and people of color). … Their artwork allows a viewer to have a better appreciation of what it’s like to be a racialized and gendered person in today’s world,” Samantha Noel, an assistant professor of art history at Wayne State University, said in an email.

“Art can make some people uncomfortable with having to reflect on subject matter that they may otherwise not want to pay attention to, yet it may also be the only means that some European-Americans have to engage with the BIPoC experience. … Ultimately, art provides a means through which one human can recognize the humanity of another human who does not look like them.”

As people walk through the gallery, which is only a portion of the full array of works included in the exhibit, people will encounter pieces like Michael Dixon’s “A Nation Within a Nation,” Earle’s “White Fragility” and Margaret Parker’s “Strip it off,” which may feel perplexing to take in. This is not an exhibit that’s meant to be rushed through.

People may also find themselves feeling like they’re back in a classroom, as they read the artist statements for Mia Risberg’s “Out of Line I, II, III,” Earle’s “Social Codes: Propagate IV” or Laurie Wechter’s “The Human Genome Project,” except this time, they won’t be learning from a textbook.

In these ways, “Unraveling Racism: Seeing White” extends beyond the walls that the pieces of work hang upon. It begins to break down walls and provides diverse perspectives that help instead build a doorway, with a sign that says, “Everyone is welcome.”

“It’s a hard thing to work on. That’s why I felt it was important to do it in the community. It’s important to have people who are thinking about the same things and being able to talk about it in a way that is as safe as you can make it,” Earle said.

She encourages everyone to listen to the “Seeing White” podcast and form their own responses to it.

For more information and to see the full exhibit, visit unravelingracism.com. KickstART Farmington Gallery & Shop is located at 33304 Grand River Ave.

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