- Kate Santos
Situated behind Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House in Barnsdall Park, in the last remaining municipal art gallery in America, SKIN is one of the most important art shows in Los Angeles right now. Curated to establish an open dialogue about race, privilege and violence in America, the interactive design of the exhibition invites participants to analyze their own biases and perceptions pertaining to race, ethnicity, gentrification, and economic status.
36 artists, including Kara Walker, are featured at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery (LAMAG), whose work is in response to racially-charged current events still unfolding in cities across America. Walker contributes a compelling 12-minute short film called ‘National Archives Microfilm Publication M999 Roll 34: Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands: Lucy of Pulaski’ that explores racism and violence in a historic context, using her signature silhouettes as puppets.
Each artwork unflinchingly challenges the viewer to interrogate the status quo. Ken Gonzales-Day’s Objects Arranged by Color, a massive collage that features photos of various sculptures arranged according to color, examines historical art and racial bias. Gabriel Sosa’s Letters of Support, which presents letters written by the friends and family of a defendant – in the hopes that the kind words will be taken into consideration when the judge delivers sentencing – scrutinizes corrupt, racist political systems. And a watercolor by Zeal Harris of Prince Jones, a black man killed by an armed policeman, moved some attendees to tears.
‘The exhibit deals with the aesthetic qualities we adhere to in regards to our skin and the meanings we assign to these physical variations in our skin,’ explains artist April Bey, whose painting, #Gradient, features an arrangement of varying tones of skin color with words based on perceptions of those skin colors above. ‘The color in my piece comes from people of African descent, yet everyone who sees the piece tries to compare their skin tone to the colors, [regardless of their race]. The piece can include everyone devoid of race, and flattened down to the aesthetics of pigment in the skin.’ Her piece is based on an earlier work, #PickyHead.
The entire show challenges viewers to look their beliefs in the mirror, figuratively and literally– there are two mirrors in the space that call for self-reflection. Furthermore, the artists are seeking dialogue about race – viewers are invited to call a payphone, set up beside the entrance, to discuss thoughts and feelings catalyzed by the exhibit.
The exhibition opens on Monday, February 7th at Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, 4800 Hollywood Blvd. Los Angeles, CA + (323) 644-6275 and runs until April 17, 2016.