Museum  August 20, 2019  Chandra Noyes

Linking the Past and Present: How Two Artists Examine the History of Racism in America

Courtesy Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art

Colin Quashie, The Wedding Party Billboard, 2018-19. Digital collage.

In a city with its own contentious history of racism (like many others), two artists are grappling with the past and how it continues to shape the present. In two new fall exhibitions at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston, artists Katrina Andry and Colin Quashie explore how slavery and institutional racism impact the world around them.

For Over There and Here is Me and Me, Katrina Andry explores how racial stereotypes play out in the neighborhoods of her native New Orleans, where gentrification is having a major impact on housing prices and equity. Charleston faces similar challenges, and organizers hope the exhibition will open a dialogue about the issue. 

Courtesy Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art

Katrina Andry, Mammy Complex: Unfit Mommies Make for Fit Nannies, 2011. Color reduction woodcut, archival digital background.

A trained print-maker, Andry uses the graphic form of her medium to confront the viewer with the visual manifestation of the ideologies behind racist policies and practices. Belying the ugliness of the ideas, the images are beautiful: colorful and multi-layered with intricate textures that draw us in.

Andry often reverses the roles of races in her images. Taking the ideology out of context in this way forces us to step into another's shoes and to face the faulty logic behind presumptions and race. For this exhibition, Andry has created a large-scale wallpaper installation in addition to a new body of prints.

Courtesy Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art

Katrina Andry, Fabricated Satyr's Distracted Desires, 2019. Color reduction woodcut.

Charleston-based Colin Quashie mines the darker parts of American history, digitally manipulating archival images to give them added context and more nuanced meanings. Many of his subjects will be easily recognizable, and Quashie plays on our knowledge of and comfort with the figures to subvert our understanding of them.

By overlaying the tools of slavery on these iconic figures, he makes apparent the impact slavery had and racism continues to have on their lives and legacies. Louis Armstong blows a set of shackles instead of his trumpet. Harriet Tubman wears rose-colored glasses made of shackles. Super-imposed with his legendary false-teeth, American hero George Washington suddenly takes on a more sinister tone.

Colin Quashie, Rose Colored, 2018-19. Digital collage.
Courtesy Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art

Colin Quashie, Rose Colored, 2018-19. Digital collage.

Colin Quashie, Priviledge, 2018-19. Digital collage.
Courtesy Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art

Colin Quashie, Priviledge, 2018-19. Digital collage.

Colin Quashie, Smile, 2018-19. Digital collage.
Courtesy Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art

Colin Quashie, Smile, 2018-19. Digital collage.

Colin Quashie, Gabriel, 2018-19. Digital collage.
Courtesy Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art

Colin Quashie, Gabriel, 2018-19. Digital collage.

Colin Quashie, All Fall Down, 2018-19. Digital collage.
Courtesy Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art

Colin Quashie, All Fall Down, 2018-19. Digital collage.

Despite being visual manifestations of such powerful issues, Quashie and Andry’s images remain nuanced, reflecting the fact that racism and its impact is not always black-and-white. Throughout their work, we see that the legacy of slavery and its underlying ideology continues to rear its head in unexpected ways. It's through artists like Quashie and Andry using all the tools at their disposal, like humor, subversion, and unflinching honesty, to reflect its complicated impact that we can begin to come to terms with and dismantle this ever-present force.

Katrina Andry: Over There and Here is Me and Me and Colin Quashie: Linked are on view at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art from August 23 to December 7, 2019.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is Managing Editor for Art & Object.

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