Race and Class: The Artists' Take

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

yinka pict 1

Mobility, by British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare. Image courtesy of James

Cohan Gallery, NY. [Yinka Shonibare / James Cohan Gallery]

The awful aftermath of Hurricane Katrina inspired us to do a series of shows exploring the problems and nuances of race and class in America. Our first show, with economist Marcellus Andrews and author Leon Wynter, was followed by shows with economist and public intellectual Glen Loury, Manhattan Institute Fellow John McWhorter, one show where we tried to sort out the difference in impact between race and class, and then most recently, a show parsing through racial disparities in health care.

Now that we’ve explored the black/white gap and the rich/poor gap with some economists, legal scholars, and even doctors, we’d like to try a different approach, based on this great suggestion from listener WhiteBeetle:

I would love to hear a program that is a response from the artistic community. We know from history that the arts/artists can not only be leaders but often provide foreshadowing/ forewarning of things to come. The arts [are] a wonderful place to see responses to our world – both positive and negative, as well as find ideas and inspirations and hope. (Think Harlem Renaissance.) And of course, the arts can provide very tangible access to history – something many of usby choice, accident or conspiracydo not have a very good handle on! (Think Harlem Renaissance.)


Couldn’t have said it better outselves. We’re assembling a group of contemporary artists whose work deals explicitly with race, to talk about their own work and about this country’s current state of affairs. WhiteBeetle has been kind enough to recommend some theater artists from the northwest, but please let us know if there are other contemporary artists you’d like to hear speak on the subject of race in America, and what you’d like to hear them talk about.

Update, 11/10/05, 3:22 pm

Hi guys. Thanks for the guest suggestions thus far. I just want to mention one or two things…

Not that I truly believe that there’s a difference between so-called “high culture” and “low culture,” but I just thought I’d let you know that most of the artists I’ve spoken with so far are working in the “high art” genres: painting, sculpture, photography, video, theater, performance, or literature. I’m trying to find artists who aren’t necessarily in the mainstream but who are making interesting and provocative statements through their work. In part this is because we’re talking about doing one show entirely about hip-hop and it’s place in American culture (and it’s relationship to the market, and to criminality, and to questions of authenticity in black culture) so I’ll probably use most of these suggestions in working on that show. Also, we’re talking about doing another show with at least one prominent black comedian. I can’t really say who because we haven’t booked him yet, but let’s just say there are few cultural critics dealing with race whose work is as sharp and provocative as his. Goodness knows it would be cool to do a show with Dave Chappelle. There will be posts up about both of these shows in the near future.

Update, 11/17/05, 5:46 pm

Scroll down and you’ll see that last week scottbenbow linked to an exhibition held last year at the International Center for Photography in New York, organized by The Center for Art and Visual Culture at UMBC in Baltimore, Maryland. The show, which examines whiteness as a cultural construct that is as complex, nuanced, and stereotype-able as blackness, is called White: Whiteness and Race in Contemporary Art.

If you want to see and hear more, Newsweek Magazine created an online version of the exhibition, with narration by curator Maurice Berger. (Scroll down until you see the link “White in America”). Maurice Berger, as it turns out, is a fantastic talker and a truly interesting guy, with a very unique perspective on things and very real experience dealing with racism and with the art world (sometimes at the same time). We’re going to see if we can convince him to come on the show. Thanks for the lead, Scott.

Also, Mr. Berger mentioned that he recently moderated a digital discussion about multiculturalism sponsored by the Georgia O’Keefe Museum as part of their Online Symposium about the 1980s. If you’re interested, you can follow that conversation here.

Franklin Sirmans

Independent curator based in NYC

Visual arts lecturer at Princeton University.

damali ayo


Nayland Blake


Teaches at the International Center of Photography in NYC

Rob Pruitt


Runs art program at Project Row Houses in Houston, TX

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