New Orleans

Mixed Messages.4 at Antenna Gallery

Just over forty-seven years ago this month, it was illegal for interracial couples to marry in sixteen states throughout the United States. Richard and Mildred Loving, the serendipitously named couple, were married in 1958 and then promptly arrested under anti-miscegenation laws. The legacy of Loving v. Virginia, the landmark decision of the Supreme Court to strike down race-based restrictions on marriage, reverberates clearly on the anniversary of the landmark decision. And Antenna Gallery pays homage to it with Mixed Messages.4, the fourth iteration in this exhibition series that addresses race, racism, and the multiracial experience.

Jerald White, the organizer of the exhibit, began Mixed Messages as a response to a 2009 incident in which a Louisiana Justice of the Peace, Keith Bardwell, refused to officiate the civil wedding of Beth Humphrey and Terence McKay, an interracial couple. White points out that “the only rights we have are the ones we are willing to fight for,”[1] and indeed this exhibition comes out fighting from the start.

James Edward Bates, Passing the Torch, Documenting the Klu Klux Klan, 2013; Photograph; 12" X 18". Courtesy of Antenna Gallery and the Artist. Photo: Jerald White.

James Edward Bates. Passing the Torch, Documenting the Klu Klux Klan, 2013; photograph; 12 x 18 in. Courtesy of Antenna Gallery and the Artist. Photo: Jerald White.

The emotional inflections of the works vary widely, from hilarity to solemn observance. James Edward Bates’ photographic essay Passing the Torch, Documenting the 21st Century Ku Klux Klan (2013) is the first work visitors see upon entering the show. The contemporary images of the Klan are startling to say the least: a man exiting a bus in sunglasses as the bus driver glances sideways at him; a child swinging a flaming torch amid other Klan members. The photos seem like imagery from the past, yet the Klan is still active. Bates spent over a decade recording the activities of the KKK, gaining a level of trust and documenting private moments. Bates’ photographs alert the audience that the audacious racism that condemned the Lovings still lives.

Jave Yoshimoto. Bear My Shame, 2010; Gouache on Paper; 14" x 17". Courtesy of Antenna Gallery and the Artist. Photo: Jerald White.

Jave Yoshimoto. Bear My Shame, 2010; gouache on paper; 14 x 17 in. Courtesy of Antenna Gallery and the Artist. Photo: Jerald White.

In another part of the gallery, Jave Yoshimoto honors his heritage by replicating Japanese wood-block techniques (though with gouche paintes), but the content of his work reflects the racial stereotypes he has experienced in the United States. Yoshimoto’s Bear My Shame (2010) is another study of the Klan, but through a very different lens. A masked Klu Klux Klan member runs in fright, and another Klan member burns, as Godzilla approaches on the horizon. This straightforward symbol for Yoshimoto’s Asian heritage lacks subtlety but makes up for it in abundant humor. Godzilla blasting his nuclear breath on the Klan, instead of Los Angeles—that is a movie I would go see.

Mixed Messages.4, installation view, Antenna Gallery. Courtesy of Antenna Gallery. Photo: Jerald White.

Mixed Messages.4, installation view, Antenna Gallery. Courtesy of Antenna Gallery. Photo: Jerald White.

As Anuradha Vikram recently pointed out in her #Hashtags: Mimics and Minstrels: “Given that art-gallery and museum attendance is shown to be dropping overall, the lack of traction with growing minority populations should be a significant cause for concern within the art world.” I would add that as the amount of multiracial marriages has risen to 8.4 percent today, or 1 out of 12 marriages[2], it is important to give space to a more manifold idea of identity and race. Antenna Gallery has given wide berth to artists who question representation and perspective, and the tone for each work in the show varies wildly from celebration to anger; however, perhaps a more tightly joined show would have a clearer message. Nevertheless, acting as a weathervane for such complex issues is a mercurial responsibility. By building a framework to hold these multiracial, multifaceted monuments to love, Mixed Messages.4 embraces the ability to question one’s own genealogical and cultural identity.

Mixed Messages.4 is on view at Antenna Gallery in New Orleans through July 1, 2014.

 

[1] Jerald White. Personal interview. June 15, 2014.

[2] Susan Saulny, “More Young Americans Identify as Mixed Race,” New York Times, January 30, 2011. Accessed June 8, 2014: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/us/30mixed.html?pagewanted=all

Share

Leave a Reply