by: Lauren Alston
From fluorescent spray paint and Chance the Rapper, to oil paintings and the Byzantine era, to blown glass and Gov. Pat McCrory; Truth to Power 4, at the Pleiades Gallery, exhibits twenty-five powerful works created by NC visual artists aged 16-70, similar only in their theme of social justice. As can be expected in this community, the exhibit provides commentary on numerous social themes including, but not limited to, Orlando, HB2, #BlackLivesMatter, and gun violence.
The exhibit’s title comes from a 1955 Quaker booklet, “Speak Truth to Power”, which gallery co-owner Kim Wheaton describes as “about people who don’t have voices, who are disenfranchised, who are marginalized finding the way for their voice to matter.” In regards to this exhibit, “Truth to Power” is a way for “artists to lend their voice to the discussion about all the different things that are going on in the world where there are social justice issues, to be able to react to current events, and generate discussion.”
Wheaton explains how art can open up conversations that otherwise may never occur, and often times surrounding subjects that are taboo. She recalls a woman that she didn’t know asking her what her piece, American Death Angel, had to do with white supremacy in conjunction with gun control, and how the two of them talked and educated each other on their views, as Wheaton realized that she never would have had that conversation without her piece as a prompt. She also mentions the timeliness of the show, due to widespread rage at Gov. McCrory over HB2, yet unfortunately, the submission and selection process occurred before Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, and some of the many recent police brutality cases.
One of the pieces that stood out to me the most was Mario Heitman’s Jesus’ Black Life Ain’t Matter as I immediately recognized the title from Chance The Rapper’s newest album Coloring Book. It’s a testament that based on history and the location of his birth, we know that Jesus was brown. So why is it that he is so often portrayed as white when we see him in images? It goes to show that people of color in history are often whitewashed for the sake of erasing their power.
Karly Andreassen’s With Faith also resonated with me once I recognized the style. Her piece, inspired by art created in the 12th century Byzantine era, places a brown woman in a context and style associated with wealth and beauty, most often portrayed by a white person and seen in a principally white museum. When she places a person of color into a popular style from art history, that they do not ordinarily inhabit, she highlights that this person, too, can be seen as luxurious and wealthy, despite how people of color are frequently characterized in Western mass media.
Paul Vernon’s Rainbow is another work that I did not understand immediately, and it provoked more thoughts in my mind than I could have expected. His five, double-sided glass blown heads are a response to HB2 in regards to both the present and the future. Each head is both “looking at the present and a more tolerant future as reflected in the mirrors.” The distinct detail in each face is a testament to the individuality of each person, and how HB2 affects them.
As tragedies continue to occur in our own country and abroad, exhibits such as Truth to Power can act as a discussion stimulator and new outlet, to get people talking about important issues. Art has a way of provoking conversations that may otherwise be deemed too hard or too taboo to hold. Only by deep, thorough discussion can we even begin to start solving the major issues plaguing our nation.
Lauren Alston is a vivacious rising senior at Chapel Hill High School who’s curiosity and perseverance led her to cross the distance, physical and social from to Durham to Chapel Hill before she was even old enough to drive. She has written about Girls Rock, the Carrack’s Community Show, Saltbox Seafood, and more.