Finding a Voice

This exhibition has welcomed perspective and reflection to its visitors—an outlet for expression and an experience where people are thrust into a multisensory experience that activates emotions implicitly and explicitly. I wanted to share my experience and reflection to the exhibit from the perspective as a docent, surrounded by the artwork including Upresting by Adam Holofcener and the Counter-Archive Project by Antonio McAfee.

Black Maths has allowed me to address emotions, reflect and contemplate on past and current events surrounding issues of inequality. Upresting is a powerful piece that allows people to have a voice—to speak into the microphone and become a part of the protests of the 2015 Baltimore Uprising. I have always been a quiet person; I observe and rarely speak out. In the past few years I have gained the confidence to speak out on important issues. This exhibit was an opportunity for many to express their emotions about the current state of our country, the unjust treatment of people of color, the election results, and to add their voices to the collective sea of unrest and anger. As millennials, information is thrown at us constantly through technology and several media outlets. We must sift through a wealth of information and interpret the world through what we see and experience. In my opinion, it isn’t acceptable to be silent or willingly blind to our privilege. Silence is compliance and silence is privilege, and this piece symbolizes the need for us to stand up and speak against racism, discrimination, and police brutality. Sitting in the gallery constantly submerged in the mix of voices, images, and spaces threw me into the experience and forced me to confront these thoughts. The art served as a constant reminder that issues of inequality in the black community, police brutality, institutionalized racism, discrimination, and more still exist and remain in full force. Although slavery has been abolished, racism has not disappeared, it has evolved. I have always found an outlet in music. I believe that music is poetry that artists use to vocalize and articulate their experiences. In “Black America Again”, a song written by Common, a rapper from Chicago, known for his powerful and socially conscious lyricism, discusses the issues of the perpetual misrepresentation of black people in the US. I interpreted Antonio McAfee’s Counter-Archive Project to bring these same issues to light. In the song, Common addresses discrimination, opening with the lyrics “Here we go, here, here we go again… Trayvon’ll never get to be an older man. Black children, they childhood stole from them”. This lyric refers to the tragic murder of  Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 16 year old African American boy killed in 2012 when walking to his father’s house through a gated community. Common continues his verse with “The new plantation, mass incarceration… instead of educate, they’d rather convict the kids… From schools to prison y’all, they tryna pipe us. Tell your political parties invite us instead of making broke laws to spite us” and “The color of my skin, they comparing it to sin.. The darker it gets, the less fairer it has been”. In this part of the song, he refers to the school to prison pipeline, institutionalized racism, and discrimination. This made me think about the way the system deals with communities with high crime rates. Instead of attacking the root of the problem and providing better opportunities through education, the government criminalizes and convicts those who had no other choice but to be involved in illicit activities. This album came out in November right after the exhibit opened. I used to come to work and sit at the desk and experience the Counter-Archive Project. I would see the faces of African American men and women from the 1900s distorted and represented in new ways and I listened to the echoes and distortion of men and women marching together in response to the death of Freddie Gray to protest the unjustified killings of black Americans. I listened to this album repeatedly after I got off work. Listening to others articulate thoughts that I could not helped me understand even more. Being immersed in this experience allowed me to organize my thoughts on the treatment of black people in our country. I gained more perspective through the emotional context of these issues rather than just seeing news story after news story. Racism is real, police brutality is real, and discrimination is real. These statements must be seen, heard, and engrained in the brain of every single person to activate change. The last line of “Black America Again” is echoed by Stevie Wonder, “We are rewriting the black American story…”—it is up to us to change the course of history and let our voices be heard.

 

Tasiana Paolisso

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