by Daniel Wirtheim
A portrait of Marie Antoinette watches over the exhibit space — that is, Marie Antoinette if she were a black woman in the antebellum South and devoted to her master.
She wears a Confederate army coat like “her boyfriend’s varsity jacket,” according to the artist, Inga Kimberly Brown. “She’s in love with her master,” Brown said. She describes it as a sort of Stockholm syndrome between slave and master, something that’s often ignored by society in regards to slave descendants.
“Marie: Daughter of the Revolution” poses the type of edgy perspectives on race that the new exhibit at Greensboro College and presented by Greenhill art gallery, called Art + Dialogue: Responding to Racial Tension in America is meant to invoke. A series of panel discussions will be held in the university gallery as well as the Greenhill. The exhibit comes after persuasion from the college’s association with the United Methodist Church, which encouraged them to host events promoting more inclusion. The exhibit opened on Sept. 24, to a crowd of about 40.
“I think it’s a story that is continuous — sometimes I get tired of it,” Brown said about race. “But then again, no I don’t because it’s my story.”
Brown was infatuated with musician Lil’ Kim when she made the painting. Lil’ Kim is a sapphire, she said, a woman who uses her sexuality in a coy, intelligent way — something that even some slaves had done, according to Brown. The wall behind Marie is lined with advertisements for slave auctions, but because slaves were forbidden to read, Marie has no idea of the dangers that surround her.
“Marie” was a popular portrait, but on opening night most people chose to pass on the hands-in-pocket museum-going experience for the more participatory pieces.
There’s a tree painted on a sheet of glass set on a beautiful oak base. The trunk bears the silhouette of the artists, Krystal and Kerith Hart, an interracial couple based in Greensboro. Beneath them is a drooping US flag and a collage of marchers and a cityscape; images of racial fighting that frame their silhouettes as a beacon of interracial love caught in a world of turmoil.
Visitors are urged to leave notes with negative racial experiences beneath the structure to symbolically walk away from them. The longest list was from Stephen Rountree, a black local hip-hop artist.
“My whole life my dad would not allow me to take part [in black culture],” said Rountree. “I think it was baked in his head that it’s bad to be black.”
Some of Rountree’s experiences were “no braids, no afro, no rap, no funk, no slang, no BET — which is good — no culture, no identity.”
On opening night most people chose to pass on the hands-in-pocket museum-going experience.(photo by Daniel Wirtheim)
Rountree thinks that talking about his relationship with his father will help him better understand black culture.
Adjacent to the glass illustration are two separate lineups of vehicles drawn in graphite, the vehicles of Klan and American Nazi Party members and a Communist Workers Party rally present during the 1979 Greensboro Massacre.
The artist, Tyler Starr, searched FBI documents to find the specifics of the vehicles and what weapons were carried inside. He found all of the specifications and created the model as well as a reference guide styled as an Auto Trader magazine, which are offered for free at the exhibit. Starr sees the vehicles as characters and he’s recognized trends within each group. For instance, the Klan/Nazi vehicles are all American made: Ford, Buick and Pontiac. The Communist Workers Party featured a Honda, a Fiat and a couple of Toyotas.
“These vehicles became sort of the characters,” Starr said.
Most people at the opening night were willing to talk about race. James Langer, who serves as director of galleries at Greensboro College, said that was why an exhibit on race might work best on a college campus.
“The way it was presented and the way the call to the artist was written, it was clear we could come up with some really emotive work here,” Langer said. “There could be some hot-button responses. But it’s an art gallery on a college campus and I think that attracts a more thoughtful clientele. Everyone generally comes with an open mind.”