Race and Revolution: Artists Respond

"Champion" by Cannupa Hanska Luger. (Photo courtesy of Katie Fuller)

“Champion” by Cannupa Hanska Luger (Photo courtesy of Katie Fuller)

One year ago, Katie Fuller visited Topography of Terror in Berlin, an outdoor and indoor museum that allowed her to look into the Third Reich offices of the Holocaust. No interpretation was offered, but Fuller was shaken up and inspired.

A former high school English teacher and museum educator at the New-York Historical Society, Fuller wanted to find another way to inform people about the racial history of the United States. After seeing the exhibit in Berlin, she decided to put her idea into action with an exhibit that does not offer interpretation from the artists.

She curated the “Race and Revolution” exhibit, an artistic response to documents and events from the American Revolution. The exhibit, which opened Aug. 3 and runs until Sept. 25 on Governors Island, addresses racism toward African Americans and Native Americans on both a historical and a contemporary level, and challenges the stories traditionally told about colonialism.

Katie Fuller, curator of Race and Revolution exhibit (Photo by Arriel Vinson for Voices of NY)

Katie Fuller, curator of the “Race and Revolution” exhibit (Photo by Arriel Vinson for Voices of NY)

“It’s as if the artist’s work is looking at these documents or these people who wrote these documents and saying, ‘things are still the same’,” Fuller said. “Why were the conditions on which this country was founded… why couldn’t there be respect for different cultures and different ways of being?”

“Race and Revolution,” billed as “exploring human injustices through art,” features eight artists, four men and four women, of different ethnicities. Fuller mostly chose artists who already work on social and political issues in their work. She wanted to create a “microcosm” of the country with the artists she chose.

Cannupa Hanska Luger, a Native American artist, addresses racism by representing colonization in nature. His piece features two male elk in a territorial fight, in which both die. “A lot of the racist practices and/or systems of control have always been about manipulating and controlling space, and who has control of that and what systems they will use,” Luger said.

Nona Faustine, an African-American artist, uses photography to respond to racism. One photo shows her naked from the waist up, wearing a string with small baby shoes tied around her, and a cast-iron pan in one hand, standing in front of the Lefferts Historic House in Brooklyn, which was built during the American Revolution. The house was home to Peter Lefferts, a former slave owner.

“I photographed myself in front of that house to commemorate the slaves that that family owned for generations,” Faustine said. “But it also commemorates and also acknowledges the painful past of the enslaved women and the children that were lost to them and sold by slave masters.”

The mural "Se Siente El Miedo" by Michelle Angela Ortiz at the installation of the Race and Revolution exhibit. (Photo courtesy of Katie Fuller)

The mural “Se Siente El Miedo” by Michelle Angela Ortiz at the installation of the “Race and Revolution” exhibit. (Photo courtesy of Katie Fuller)

Michelle Angela Ortiz, on the other hand, took a contemporary approach with her piece for the exhibit. Ortiz, who is Hispanic, is responding to American Revolution documents with a piece from her project, Familias Separadas or Separated Families. She will use a portrait and video of a man named Cruz, an immigrant who fears deportation and talks about the effects of immigration on families.

“What people fail to see is that this country was based and founded on immigrants,” Ortiz said. “When we talk about founding fathers, I always think ‘William Penn was an immigrant.’ And that’s what people fail to see because they seem so many years removed from our time right now that they feel like that’s not really relevant.”

While the artwork is significant to the exhibit, the location is just as relevant. Governors Island was a holding place for the military during the American Revolution, according to the National Park Service.

Since Governors Island is a public space, Fuller and the artists think they will get spectators who may not agree with the exhibit’s content. This realization has motivated the curator and the artists she brought together for the exhibit.

“I think we have to re-examine what has gone on and bring it into the light so that the narrative of this history is inclusive and known,” Faustine said.

Ultimately, Fuller said the goal of the exhibit is to make people think and acknowledge all narratives.

“We’ve allowed that same story to continue and that’s on us,” Fuller said. “And that’s also on the generations before us. But I don’t think this country has done even remotely enough to try to acknowledge its past and deal with the shame around its past.”

Arriel Vinson, a Knight-CUNY Journalism Summer Fellow, is a rising senior at Indiana University Bloomington.

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