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Race and the Visual Arts' symposium set for Oct. 11
Mitchell, News Bureau arts writer
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. —
Artist Suk Ja Kang Engles initially began to ponder issues of race and
identity as a teenager growing up in a small town in Korea.
video "Iris," by Suk Ja Kang Engles at I space gallery.
was a woman, in a poor neighborhood in my town, who became a streetwalker
on the military base … after sleeping with a black soldier, she
was allowed only to be with the black soldiers, not white ones,”
Kang Engles said, recalling that the woman was known around town as
the “black princess.”
Now a graduate student in the School
of Art and Design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,
Kang Engles said her early awareness of the racial branding of the prostitute
by neighbors and base personnel helped inform her decision later in
life to explore issues of racial identity through art. Fourteen years
ago, she moved to the United States, where she established a career
as a studio artist before coming to Illinois to pursue a master of fine
arts degree in painting. Although paint is her primary medium, her work
has expanded to include video and performance art.
Kang Engles also has a background in Korean literature, and is an educator
as well. In that role, she has teamed with her husband, Tim Engles,
a faculty member at Eastern Illinois University who specializes in multicultural
American literature, to organize an academic symposium, “After
Whiteness: Race and the Visual Arts,” on the Urbana-Champaign
campus, and a related art exhibition at I
space, the university’s Chicago art gallery.
The symposium, free and open to the public, will be held from 8 a.m.
to 5 p.m. on Oct. 11 at the Levis Faculty Center, 919 W. Illinois St.,
Urbana. It is sponsored by the Center
on Democracy in a Multiracial Society in conjunction with the School
of Art and Design and several other campus units.
Symposium panelists, who will consider three distinct themes –
whiteness and visual space, whiteness and the artist, and whiteness
and art history – include artists, art historians and other scholars
from Illinois and beyond. A complete schedule and list of participating
panelists is available on the Web at www.ux1.eiu.edu/~cftde/afterwhiteness.html.
The keynote speaker is Wellesley College artist-scholar Adrian Piper.
Her address, titled “Now What? Awakening From the Dream of Whiteness”
will be presented at 3:30 p.m. in the Knight Auditorium, Spurlock Museum,
600 S. Gregory St., Urbana.
The related exhibition, “After Whiteness,” will be on view
Oct. 10 through Nov. 29 at I space, 230 W. Superior St., Chicago. An
opening reception is planned from 5 to 7 p.m. on Oct. 10. Featured artists
include Kang Engles; Illinois art professor Laurie Hogin; EIU art professor
Katherine Bartel; and independent artists Kojo Griffin and Tana Hargest.
According to the events’ co-organizers, the emerging field of
“whiteness studies” has generated growing interest over
the past half dozen years or so from scholars and critics in a wide
range of disciplines – from anthropology and sociology to law,
literature and cinema studies. While the field often is defined in somewhat
fluid terms, Kang Engles and Engles describe whiteness studies as encompassing
“vigorous, interdisciplinary investigations into the powers and
privileges bestowed upon Americans who happen to be classified as ‘white.’
This,” they noted, “constitutes a reversal of the race-informed
gaze, an effort to focus on the racial status of whites with some of
the intensity and concentration that has been accorded those of people
Such considerations go relatively unnoticed in discussions of the visual
arts, according to Kang Engles and Engles.
“Only within the past year or so have scholars and critics of
the visual arts begun to examine extensively how the notion of a white
race influences ‘the art world’ and its participants,”
they said. The symposium and exhibition represent “an attempt
to further this inquiry, and the title is meant to convey a double meaning.”
The artists, curators and scholars involved, they explained, are “
‘after whiteness’ in the sense that they are pursuing it,
trying to capture some of its elusive formations and effects. In another
sense, their work is emerging in a period when whiteness has come under
increasing scrutiny in the culture at large. Changing immigration and
demographic patterns have begun to bring whiteness into focus as a particular
racial formation by decreasing the numerical majority of whites. Thus,
since an integral component within white hegemony has been its taken-for-grantedness,
its presumptive occupancy of the norm, whiteness is no longer what it
was – in this sense, we live in an era ‘after whiteness.’