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Thesis Overview

Abstract

My thesis considers how the ideology of Whiteness is reflected in visual art. I examine how my visual practice flows out from my grappling with the contentious ideology of Whiteness. By considering how I may navigate such a discussion, I take two approaches.
It is necessary to step back, as much as is possible, to provide critical distance. At the same time I consider my own subjectivity and lived experience as a source of knowledge. These two approaches reinforce the ideas I have chosen to highlight in this paper: interpellation, and embodiment.

Additionally, both a clinical approach and lived experience are reflective of two streams of work I have produced throughout the MAA research period. I discuss four projects: dollhouse, Skin Tags, The Cleaning Girl and the Boarder, and Scope. I ground the discussion of these projects with an examination of the ideas of interpellation as discussed by philosophers Louis Althusser and Slavoj Žižek. To support an embodied position I explore the arguments of cultural theorist Sara Ahmed, as well as historians Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison. To provide context for these theories and my work, I also discuss, among others, selected projects by artists William Pope.L, Jenny Saville, Wangechi Mutu, and Izhar Patkin, as well as a collaborative project by Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy.

Several complications are also considered and in particular how the idea of normalcy is connected to the way Whiteness is constructed. These approaches on the ideas of subjectivity, embodied orientation, interpellation, and normalcy frame the discourse on the ideology of Whiteness in my thesis project.

Rationale

Several years ago I was given a copy of William Pope.L: The Friendliest Black Artist in America (2002) to look over. I found that thinking about his projects prodded me to consider my own White privilege. Pope.L’s work hailed me, so to speak, and prodded me to consider how I might change my orientation in relation to Whiteness. I am interested in how the idea of hailing (Althusser) into a specific ideology requires the individual to turn towards that ideology, and how in turn Whiteness specifically orients (Ahmed) White bodies away from the ideology of Whiteness.

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Note

For an excellent discussion on the usage of the terms “White,” “Whiteness,” and “non-White” (“Black,” “Blackness,” etc.) see Richard Dyer’s chapter The Politics of Looking at Whiteness (pgs 8-14), in his book White (1997).

As well, Lund and Carr explain their use of the capitalized usage of “White” and “Whiteness” in the article Exposing Privilege And Racism In The Great White North: Tackling Whiteness And Identity Issues In Canadian Education (pg 229), published in the journal Multicultural Perspectives 12.4 (2010): 229-234.

Method

As I contend with the discussed concepts of Whiteness my work flows out from my encounters with those ideas, especially the notion of normalcy. Not as illustrations, but as visual responses to them. It follows a general logic rather than a specific medium or set of supplies – taking what is at hand, re-contextualizing, using low-tech materials, employing a diverse set of skills – in response to a particular idea.

My MAA research work can be divided into two main types. Work that takes a more clinical approach, and work that incorporates some aspect of my lived experience. These two approaches are reflective of the ideas I have chosen to highlight in my thesis: Althusser and Zizek’s thoughts on interpellation, and Ahmed’s notion of embodiment.

My Mother Told Me, Detail of removal, 2011.
My Mother Told Me, Detail of removal, 2011.

Methodology

My methodology ties the idea of interpellation or hailing (Althusser) to the odd way in which an individual becomes a White subject by being hailed – turning 180 degrees towards the ideology – while at the same time being oriented (Ahmed) away from Whiteness. I aim to apply this idea to several art works asking how the work hails the viewer as either being oriented towards Whiteness or away from Whiteness? As a person who lives with White privilege how am I implicated? Part of my strategy will also examine these ideas through the notion of embodiment (Butler, Merleau-Ponty, Daston and Galison, Haraway).

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Notes

For an excellent discussion on the usage of the terms “White,” “Whiteness,” and “non-White” (“Black,” “Blackness,” etc.) see Richard Dyer’s chapter The Politics of Looking at Whiteness (pgs 8-14), in his book White (1997).

As well, Lund and Carr explain their use of the capitalized usage of “White” and “Whiteness” in the article Exposing Privilege And Racism In The Great White North: Tackling Whiteness And Identity Issues In Canadian Education (pg 229), published in the journal Multicultural Perspectives 12.4 (2010): 229-234.

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