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
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
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
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
to be white, upper-middle class, and male. Interdisciplinary studies
and intersectional identities aided in opening up this subjectivity.
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.