It’s clear that my initial post Inside the Studio: Whitewashing didn’t fully articulate my intention with the project. The work, albeit at its very initial stages in development, has already started a thoughtful conversation and I’m thankful for that.
My goal is to explore a controversial and for many people an uncomfortable topic. The place of discomfort is powerful. It is a place where change can happen.
The topic of whitewashing is an exploration of erasure of identities.
Whether culture, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, ability, economic standing or country of origin. It’s the process where a dominant society systematically tries to erase or homogenize a minority group.
By singly identifying the process of erasure of racialized people I unintentionally narrowed in on a subject that is not my personal story to tell. It’s an interconnected issue that impacts countless communities in varying ways. That said, it is abundantly clear that it disproportionately affects racialized and indigenous people today.
Although it’s not my personal story, I believe it’s an issue that we all have a responsibility to engage with. And this engagement must be done in a sensitive and appropriate way. These issues have historical roots and ongoing legacies that continue to shape societies today. These processes are deliberate and so is my work.
They manifest in everyday society through racism and homophobia, the integration and exclusive inclusion of certain minority groups and the marginalization and isolation of others. These processes never look the same. They affect and impact different communities in a multitude of varying ways.
I approach these issues as a queer white male living in a society that provides me with an abundance of privileges both visible and many yet still to be named. These topics are living histories and although I had no role in creating or structuring them, I benefit from them everyday.
These processes created and shape the society I live in. I have a responsibility to engage with and critique them. In this I also have a responsibility to acknowledge both my positioning to them and accountability to my community.
The process of whitewashing is often seen in a positive. The act of covering up what is considered unsightly. It’s the physical act of whitewashing a picket fence to cover up the dents, dirt and other so-called undesirable aspects.
This processes is not natural. It is intentionally taught. And it is learned.
It is the same process that is used to erase cultures and people that don’t fit into the standards of the dominant group. We are taught that people, their lives and their histories are undesirable. These are our beliefs, whether conscious or not.
My community, the queer community, has been whitewashed through history by centuries of Euro-Christian domination around the world. My queer ancestors were systematically exterminated and erased. And we have been scrubbed from the history books.
I reject that whitewashing is a positive. The act of whitewashing is violent. It is negative. Whitewashing is erasure. This project aims to make it visible in a tangible form.
I originally chose objects that are physical realities of our ignorant past and present, existing both as historical references and living evidence. They are symbols of false representations of societies and communities through the lens of the majority.
The objects are not representative of the communities they were meant to depict. They were created for profit and to further marginalize groups. They are representative of the culture that created them.
But these objects cannot be cleanly separated from their visual representations. Their false imagery and uncomfortable realities are too visceral to be removed. By continuing as is, the project ran the risk of being marred down by issues around process and intent.
In this context, I’m shifting to the whitewashing of utilitarian objects. Through repeated acts of whitewashing the form, function and essence of these familiar objects will be obliterated and erased.
This project is inherently a contradiction. The act of covering is also the act of revealing. The act of whitewashing both disguises and draws attention. It is intentional and it is uncomfortable.
By engaging in this work I’m conscious of my privilege and positioning with it. I’m committed to ongoing engagement, reflection and conversation.
I’m committed to create work that doesn’t erase these living histories but acknowledges and calls attention to them. Through this process I’m acutely conscious of not recreating the very systems I look to critique.
I’m not interested in creating work that is safe, palatable or comfortable. This work intentionally exists within a tense and confined space. A space where there’s possibility that change can happen.
The question I’m left with is, who will take on the responsibility to make that change?