Race made visible

In an essay accompanying Black Is, Black Ain't, the Renaissance Society's current exhibit, curator Hamza Walker calls race "one of the more disputed of life's undisputed facts." Although "a biological fiction," he writes, "it remains a social fact whose history more than compensates for all that science disavows." With photographs of Emmitt Till's exhumed grave, Polaroids of grinning blackface figurines, eight disintegrating cones of flour, reflected images of now-demolished Chicago public-housing projects, and a six-foot-tall Black Power fist, the exhibit's 26 artists—both black and non-black—explore America's shifting racial rhetoric. In his essay, Walker notes that Black Is, Black Ain't, whose title alludes to a phrase from Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, bears out the notion that transcending race, an abiding American dream for decades, remains a fraught, paradoxical task: "Our efforts to become less race conscious serve to make us more race conscious."

Nearly a dozen related events will coincide with the exhibit, which runs through June 8. Next Tuesday will feature a lecture by Harris School professor Jeffrey Grogger on the complex links between race and poverty. On Friday, May 16, Columbia University literature scholar Saidiya Hartman and Chicago geneticist Rick Kittles will discuss African American genealogical research.


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Images (left to right): Andres Serrano's The Interpretation of Dreams (White Nigger) and Woman with Infant hang behind Randy Reiger's Impending Future Bus, in which white patrons sit at the back; behind Untitled T-shirts (P.R.O.J.E.C.T.S.) by Jerome Mosley is Paul D'Amato's photo, 624 W. Division, showing a half-razed Cabrini Green building; sugar crystals engulf Alex Haley's Roots in Edgar Arceneaux's Failed Attempt at Crystallization.

April 28, 2008