Real Men Sew Dresses
Collage. March 2014.
Work must constantly evolve, morph and grow. Although these pieces are presently complete, they will continue to transform with repeated acts of whitewashing.
The process dictates this project. The end is not in sight.
This project continues to evolve as I explore the varied materials and objects. I’ve be surprised at how some of the objects have begun to take (and lose) shape.
Some of the least interesting objects from the beginning are becoming the most interesting objects at this stage in the process. Their textures and reaction to the coatings have been completely unexpected in a positive way.
I’m beginning to explore tableau scenes and coating object groupings in their natural settings. Stay tuned, more to come!
It has been a busy month since my previous project update. A last minute October move of both my apartment and studio and 10 day trip to New York City has really put me behind on everything in life, including my whitewashing project.
I can’t believe it’s already November. Although I’m still living out of boxes I’ve finally settled into my new apartment. My new studio is coming together too, although it’s still a work in progress.
Even though I’m still daydreaming about being back in NYC (you can check out the rest of my photos on Instagram), I’m getting back into the swing of things.
I’ve picked off where I left off. As I mentioned in my last update I’ve moved away from the racist trinkets to basic utilitarian and other familiar objects including a spoon, computer mouse, socks and sunglasses. These objects don’t have the same sort of charge and energy to them.
I see the work evolving as I experiment with different treatments and applications: from hanging to partially painted to laying flat with the paint oozing off around it.
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?
There was something extremely satisfying about the first application of white paint. I’m not sure if it was the very physical nature of the act or the pleasure derived from watching the racist imagery disappear. Regardless, the process is bringing up different feelings and emotions than I first anticipated.
The first object to be whitewashed is a racist representation of Native Americans, full of tired stereotypes, salt shaker. I found it in a rural volunteer-run thrift shop in Castlegar, British Columbia. It came in a set along with an equally offensive pepper shaker.
When I approached the till the older woman behind the counter fumbled and the pepper shaker went tumbling to the floor. It hit the ground and shattered into a million pieces. There was a complete look of horror on her face.
There was something relieving about that instance. The accident was a release. The energies and histories contained in the objects were broken and shattered. There was something about that moment. It was meant to happen.
And so the act of whitewashing begins. The repeated process of dipping and dipping and dipping and dipping. After only one application something has changed. The symbols, colours and imagery have already begun to disappear.
Edit: Please note that I have shifted this project. Please take a look at the update.
I’m currently pursuing a new studio sculpture project that investigates the concept of whitewashing, both in a historical and contemporary context.
I should note that by whitewashing I don’t mean the literal whitewash painting of chairs, I mean the process of minimizing and erasing racialized people (see ‘People of Colour’) both through history and in current mass media culture, politics and society.
This project explores the theoretical concept of whitewashing through the act of dipping objects in suffocating white paint. This action is repeated the point where the objects become completely distorted and illegible from the original form.
Culturally appropriated trinkets and souvenirs, objects already whitewashed and homogenized through centuries of colonialism and colonization, are being used as the source objects.
The process investigates our role, whether explicit or passive, as perpetrators of historical and ongoing violence. Does acknowledgement and awareness absolve the perpetrator of their actions? Is intent even relevant? Is permission required?
Through repeated action I’m forced to investigate my own history and current involvement in whitewashing and explore the uncomfortable truths that inanimate objects represent.
Edit: Please note that I have shifted this project. Please take a look at the update.
Great Bear Rainforest / Clear Cut is a book work completed in 2012. The work looks at the act of clear cut logging in the Great Bear Rainforest in Northern, BC. The book can be read in two directions exploring the impact of clear cutting on the internal imagery.
Historic agreements were signed in 2006 and 2009 that protected a significant portion of the old growth area and banned clear cut logging. Logging is still allowed in around 50% of the area and the Take It Taller Campaign is organizing to protect the entire area. You can sign on to support the campaign here: savethegreatbear.org/takeittaller/support.
Great Bear Rainforest cover image by Ian MacAllister. Clear Cut cover image by Marli Miller.