Difference has connoted a variety of meanings throughout history and has been stabilized as the crux of both controversy and introspection. In the recent past, the term “difference” suggested a pejorative meaning for most Americans, signifying a deviation from the “norm,” from a white, upper-middle class sensibility. This “norm” was reinforced by popular media, particularly with imagery from television and print. Images that glamorized and sustained whiteness are still ubiquitous in popular culture and add to the privileging of this single, standard worldview. But, more recently, with the codification of postmodern and postcolonial discourse, the acknowledgment of “difference” has brought about an inspection of the history of oppression, making way for more discussions that make visible a spectrum of subjectivities and identities.

Broad Territories : Images of Identity features Mark Bradford, Barbara Carrasco, Mark Steven Greenfield, and Christina Miguel-Mullen, artists who address issues that include the assertion, marginalization, and recognition of class, ethnicity, gender, race, sexual orientation, and other variables that mark identity. A survey on the construction of these “markers” provides critical insight into how they influenced history and how they continue to participate as a determining factor in current national and global politics. Realizing that contemporary art exists within the structure and strictures of society, this exhibition gathers artists whose work comments on the relationship between contemporary art and contemporary culture.

The gathering together of these four artists creates a rich dialogue that explores the complex issues present in each of their works. For example, the original photographs appropriated by Greenfield depict whites donning blackface to make a mockery of blacks. Color, in this case, is seen as a mark of degeneration and is thus used as a tool to subordinate those of color. Carrasco’s portraits, on the other hand, illustrate a negativity that is linked with light skin. Whereas Greenfield’s subjects portray whites inaccurately impersonating blacks, Carrasco’s subjects are personal and reflect her experiences within the specificities of her community. Bradford’s work purposes an extension of this discussion related to urban cultural diversity: “a dislocation of reality when you have the Mexican taqueria next to the black wig shop across the street from the Korean nail shop,” according to Bradford. The black and white binary is overridden by discussions that deal with interactions between entire ethnic and cultural communities. Miguel-Mullen’s work touches upon similar topics that deal with the intricate nature of ethnic relations and the colonialism of Hawaii. Her work makes a critique of the political arena outside the continental United States and to Hawaii, a place where minorities (as commonly understood in the continental United States as “peoples of color”) are the majority. Clearly, the juxtaposition of these works presents an important exchange of perspectives and ideas that are pertinent in contemporary art as they are in mainstream society.

Prior to the discussions that grew out of intellectual movements in a postcolonial world, the subjectivity of the spectator was often (if not always) assumed to be white, upper-middle class, and male. Interdisciplinary studies and intersectional identities aided in opening up this subjectivity. Responses to problematic theories of multiculturalism and diversity, especially in the United States as of late, made room for the admission of a subjectivity that claimed particular identities that differ, sometimes slightly and other times radically, from the once normative subjectivity. The constitution and construction of difference is dependent on the subjectivity of each individual. The shift in the conception of difference from the pre-postmodern period to the contemporary parallels the shifts in understanding difference. This opened up an ability to acknowledge and accept more than one privileged subjectivity. In recognizing that other subjectivities exist and by creating a space in which these four artists can communicate, articulate and define themselves, difference and identity, with all its historical connotations, can seriously be considered.