SUPREMATICISM: CULTURAL AND AESTHETIC WHITENESS
Sophia Frissell | Devidyal Givens | Charity Harris | Nate Hill | Theodore McLee | Rebecca Price | Estela Semeco | Marcus Tanner | Beau Torres | Laura Vela | Patricia Villafane | Louis CK
White is everywhere. The color serves as the ‘neutral’ walls of art galleries and museums. Paintings begin with a ‘blank’ canvas. This text is printed on white paper. Beau Torres’s “Suprematism/Supremacism” is also on white paper but the text is white and it nearly disappears in its own ‘neutral’ background. A major aspect of dominance is that it functions largely by being invisible, casting all that is not dominant into the category of “Other”. And so culturally, beyond the realm of just aesthetic whiteness, White people themselves function in a similar vain by representing the “norm”, and thus become centered as “default” human beings, which juxtaposes all who are marked as racially different as the subsequent Other in this circumstance, and affirms the privilege inherent in racial Whiteness. In his photo,”Asshole”, Marcus Tanner begs the question of the limits surrounding White privilege, by interestingly pointing to its embodiment in self-selected homelessness, which calls us to examine something seemingly out of place, and forces us to ask why such an event is outside of the realm of what we commonly see and expect in regard to white bodies in our current economic environment of capitalism. By playing with both this cultural phenomenon of Whiteness as capital, as well as other themes of literal capitalism and heteronormativity, Patricia Villafane’s photo series takes White bodies and literally transforms them into human models by making mannequins of them. What results is an incredibly blatant depiction of Whiteness, which is rarely the topic of conversation within a U.S. context, in which White people are the racial majority. However, this is not the case in San Pedro, Guatemala where Devidyal Givens’ daughter, Trinidad, stands out on a street populated with brown bodies. White bodies do not stand out in the US. In fact, the ubiquity of their privilege often lends them a stake in defining the standard of beauty, which Laura Vela’s illustrates in her painting, “Brown Grrrl, White Doll” by looking into the early age at which this standard of beauty is introduced. Her piece conjures to mind the detrimental effects such a standard can have on the self image of young girls of color who are already subject to objectification in a generally misogynistic society. Exploring similar notions, Estela Semeco’s “Suck it In” features tampons, a chiefly western method of feminine hygiene and “refers to the bloated, dissatisfied sensation many women may be familiar with in relation to their own bodies.” In advertisements, such as those in Rebecca Price’s “Sexy Wallpaper” white bodies are so pervasive that even non-white bodies are subsumed by conforming to the white standard of beauty. Charity Harris’ “Bloom” is a dress made of coffee filters but it cannot escape the connotation of the white wedding gown which symbolizes virginity. The misnomer of white purity is evident in Theodore McLee’s “Natural, Wholesome, Pure” that features normalized foods that are in fact all bleached. The purity of whiteness here is manufactured. These standards privilege white women in that the qualities attached to aesthetic whiteness such as purity and innocence become invaluable when placed on the stage of patriarchy. Nate Hill satirizes this value with his “Trophy Scarves” portraits in which he “wear[s] white women for status and power.” While Hill’s satire functions by leveraging racism against misogyny, the valuation of the white female body functions conversely in Sophia Frissell’s “Missing” which is based on the artist’s escape from an attempted kidnapping during which she lost a shoe among other things in the perpetrator’s trunk.