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,” and indeed this exhibition comes out fighting from the start.
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.