This traveling exhibition brings together a multi-racial group of accomplished artists and art workers to create work that explores the legacy and implications of white supremacy, privilege, and silence in North America. In the collection of mixed media works, each artist brings a unique perspective to the exhibition, providing insight into their experiences. A platform where diverse voices can be heard and represented together is a powerful reminder that we are all connected. Our collective stories show, not tell—and move the viewer to make powerful connections with their own life stories.
Beyond the Whitewash allows us to be present with others while looking directly at the systems and structures of power that have created and maintained oppressive systems of inequality. The exhibition encourages us to examine privilege, how it perpetuates disparities, and how our actions and beliefs intersect with race, class, and gender. By engaging with this artwork, viewers are encouraged to confront these systems and question how they may be complicit in preserving them.
Anti-racist conversations within the white community are more important than ever as we strive to improve conversations about race, racism, and racial justice in this country. The strength of far-right groups has gained political force in recent years. These groups use whiteness as a reason for power and white supremacy. The rhetoric surrounding "white is better" often sounds noble, like tradition or family values within these groups, spreading fear and hate towards those considered "other."
Beyond the Whitewash brings together Native, Black, and White artists to engage in a significant visual conversation about Race. The Lead Co-Curator and visual artist Shelby Head has invited artists from the Oklahoma Native community, Black community, and her own White community to respond to her artworks, An Infrastructure of Silence, a series confronting her ancestral colonial heritage. In her series, she deconstructs the complex histories and realities of her white supremacist descendants complicit in indigenous removals and enslavement.
The genocidal actions of Indian removals by United States Policy have left traumatizing generational effects, loss of cultural practices and identity for our Native people. Since first contact with Caucasian explorers, we have been experiencing the consequences of racism. The colonial powers used the idea of Race to divide, rank, and control our people. Because our skin was red, it was seen as dirty, thus classifying Native people into a lower order of humankind, which validated their dehumanizing treatment of Native people. This colonial ideology continues today, and people of color receive dehumanizing and unjust treatment. It is up to each one of us to end harmful colonial ideologies and practices.
There is a global movement amongst indigenous peoples, especially the younger generations, to "Decolonize." We are signifying an effort to dispute Western-centric narratives and ideologies by repositioning indigenous thought, histories, and knowledge into the mainstream. It is time to decolonize Race to regain our cultural identity, freedom, and humanity.
As the Native Co-curator for the exhibition, I have chosen three artists whose work exemplifies decolonization. Their work interrupts the notion of Race by creating visuals and sounds that break free from the marginalization of Native art. Most often, but not always, identity and cultural experiences inform creative articulations. Today, Native people are experiencing the most freedom they have had since the first Native ancestors began fighting for humane treatment and equal rights. This freedom has provided more opportunities for Native artists to explore contemporary mediums, styles, and materials. At the same time, the artists are concurrently paying respect to their ancestral heritage in some large or small way.
Together, the works of the featured Native artists address aspects of identity, family, freedom, and place. These essential aspects remain important to every one of us on Earth. We all desire and deserve a happy ending in life. So, why would one interrupt or disrupt another? We ask the audience to question their privilege, attitude, and knowledge for humankind moving forward onto a positive path. Let us transform our relationship with Race, decolonize our minds, and break free from the hierarchal ideology instituted upon us.
I applaud Shelby for her courageous spirit in organizing this collaborative exhibition in what can be considered a difficult conversation. Yet, she understands her roles and responsibilities within humanity. Shelby works to improve conversations about Race while reconciling her complex ancestral history of white supremacy and including the voices of people of color.
Let us move Beyond the Whitewash of truth, history, understanding, stereotypes, misconceptions, generational traumas, institutional policy, and the list goes on and on. Let us raise one's racial consciousness to co-exist peacefully within humanity.
Welana Fields Queton
Osage, Muscogee, and Cherokee Nations