In 2015, during another highly publicized wave of American police brutality and racial inequity, I made this installation. Scaled Discords is a sound, color, and kinetic experience designed to foster deeper examinations and conversations around power structures, resource allocation, and racial inequality in America. The black and white tops represent resource disparity and the red tops symbolize the black lives lost from police brutality. At the time, I felt this was an authentic medium I could use to bring this conversation into predominantly white and affluent settings where these conversations weren’t necessarily happening.
Throughout these last 5 years of exhibiting this installation across the country, audience reactions varied wildly from utter silence all the way to audiences physically pulling apart the tops from their stands and destroying them. In 2016, a major controversy from Dana Schutz’s painting of Emmett Till titled “Open Casket” showed me that my installation may not have served my endeavors well. I learned that when white artists represent black pain without illuminating the role that whiteness played in this pain that there is only spectacle. One significant reading in opening my eyes was from a prominent black artist named Lisa Whittington, who wrote a powerful article about Dana Schultz’s painting for NBC (and had done an extraordinary painting of Emmett Till herself).
Whittington writes, “Where is the artwork that interprets the lies that got Emmett Till killed? Where are the portraits of the men who lynched Emmett? What was in their eyes during the act of murder? What color is remorse?”
In 2017, Lisa Whittington generously looked at my installation and wrote me this note:
“You did not finish the thought for the viewer. Your work is prodding the viewer to engage race with the mind. The white spinners were protected and on a pedestal and nested comfortably. The colored spinners sometimes got crowded and on top of each other and knocked each other over. This is a powerful piece. Keep pushing, keep pushing, keep pushing!”
Moving forward, I learned from her feedback, her article, and other research, that when I push forward accountability for racial inequity and injustice in my artwork that I must continue to implicate the role my whiteness plays in the situations I critique.
This installation was featured in Barnsdall’s LAMAG exhibition, SKIN