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Gallery Project's 'Race' a nuanced statement

by John Carlos Cantu

Sunday June 21, 2009


It's not a surprise Ann Arbor's cutting-edge Gallery Project would present an exhibit with the in-your-face title "Race." The surprise is what a subdued and nuanced show this is. Credit curator Peter Williams, a longtime art professor at Detroit's Wayne State University and now professor of art at the University of Delaware.


"What constitutes race in the age of Obama?" the exhibit's gallery statement asks. "How do we define ourselves or our nation as we watch and interact with the co-modification of Obama and our past notion of race? Does race now become a disposable commodity?" The terms "co-modification" - stressing the urge toward a universal uniformity - and "commodity" are central to this display. And this is precisely where Williams' exhibit makes its subtle point, with humor, satire and poignancy.


For example, Françoise Duresse, assistant professor at University of Colorado at Boulder, has contributed a challenging video, "you are so smart ..." that pivots on the topics of race, gender and economics through three models' use (and continual repetition) of this phrase. Detroit mixed-media specialist Teresa Petersen's "Mixed Patterns," on the other hand, is a clever five-part assemblage that splits 10 models of differing races, genders, nationalities and occupations into sliding regions of head, chest, abdomen, legs, and feet. Kalamazoo's Paul Marquardt's digitally constructed "Chocolate Man" depicts a well-suited middle class male model constructed solely from candy bars.


The richest image on display is North Carolina photojournalist Titus Heagins' oversized color photograph, "Durham Stories: Not Hell but You Can See It From Here, Devonte" shows nothing more than a rural youth standing in verdant foliage, but it's profoundly knowing, yet also profoundly innocent, suggesting much about America's future through a reckoning with its past.