A few Sundays ago, I entered The Race Dialogue Project’s new gallery, “Undressing Race.” As a member of the RDP board, I had heard the plans, the ideas, the goals, but I never expected such a powerful effect: the deconstruction of race.
On the walls of the multi-media exhibit, the juxtaposition of facial features of individuals of different races sets the mood of the gallery. Viewers are challenged to look at the faces, all of different skin tones, and not label them by race— in this gallery, it’s about seeing each human being for his/her individual essence.
We see an array of noses, all of beautiful, unique and individual shapes. And, then, if you’re anything like me, you’ll go one by one, examining the noses, trying to see the individual beneath.
I liked looking at the image of the girl with the nose ring. I didn’t know her race and it didn’t matter. What mattered was her story, her passions, her name.
By this point in the exhibit, I was inspired and ready to approach the rest of the work through a lens devoid of race. So, when I saw a piece by local Philadelphia artist Dante Lentz, I was hooked.
In Lentz’s appropriately untitled piece, viewers see a unique outfit and are forced to make colorless judgments of this unnamed individual, who could be of any race.
By only revealing the individual’s clothing and by suggesting a race-neutral skin tone, conveyed by a sepia-toned sheath of fabric, the language for describing this person changes. Race is no longer part of picture. Most importantly, it’s not part of the judgment.
At first, viewers may not realize that there aren’t reference details to describe the race of the person suggested to reside beneath these clothes. But, the lexicon has most definitely changed: we’re looking at the individual’s style, essence, being, independent of the color of his/her skin. With no markers to explain his racial culture, we’re left to assume that it’s race-blind.
Last semester, I took an Africana Studies class with Professors Ramsey and Charles, and we toyed with the question of whether or not we lived in a post-racial society. We came to the conclusion that despite the fact that President Obama is the first African American president— and that’s clearly a huge step in the right direction— we’re still stuck in a racially-colored nation.
Looking at Lentz’s image, I’m left with a question: Is this a glimpse at a post-racial society?
Alas, I think it is.
This short video art-piece was also featured in the exhibit
The exhibit is located in The Fox Art Gallery in Claudia Cohen Hall and is open from 9 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The gallery’s closing event and professor panel focusing on race in artistic media and the community will be held on Wednesday, December 8th at 5 p.m. in the Philomathean Halls, on the fourth floor of College Hall