Published on Pelican Bomb on Feb 21, 2014
According to the original exhibition poster, this should have been the last week to catch Katrina Andry’s “Together We Stare out from the Shadows; Hiding from Their Prejudiced Stares” at the Isaac Delgado Fine Arts Gallery. The show opened on January 23. Seven days later, it was down. Delgado Community College has yet to make a public statement as to why the exhibition was surreptitiously cut short only weeks before an opening reception that had been planned for months, but I would surmise that the administration intentionally censored Andry’s work because it illuminates dark questions.
Andry’s work confronts racial stereotypes as a means to question their power to perpetuate injustice, particularly in African-American communities. Perceptions of poverty, teenage pregnancy, and violence could be said to beget more poverty, teenage pregnancy, and violence in a climate of low expectations and crippling bias. Within the history of systemized racism and marginalization, it has long been a fight for artists to represent and reflect the manifold experiences of being black in America. In one large-scale woodcut print, The Keys to the Gated Community and White Acceptance, 2010, a white female figure throws her hands skyward (ambiguously in joy or pain), while a field of clapping hands float beneath her. A blackface-style watermelon mask covers the figure’s face and a red and blue map of America stands behind her. Keyholes are rhythmically placed throughout the map. But what doors close once that key is turned? White acceptance may come at the price of cultural and self denial.
Andry’s titles are often blunt and to the point. In Western Interpretation of the Other, 2008, a white woman in blackface bends over, her butt to the viewer, while a yellow snake climbs one leg and a half-eaten apple lands on the floor. The work points to the historical over-sexualizing of black women’s bodies, equating contemporary depictions of the black pin-up or video vixen with the temptation of Eve. This work now feels somehow prescient in light of the Delgado affair. As the late painter Robert Colescott so poetically pointed out, “We’ve already come to understand that it’s about white perceptions of black people. And they may not be pretty. And they may be stupid. We didn’t make up these images. So why should we take the heat? But it’s . . . it’s satire. It’s the satire that kills the serpent, you know.”
Katrina Andry’s “Together We Stare out from the Shadows; Hiding from Their Prejudiced Stares” was originally scheduled to remain on view through February 20 at the Isaac Delgado Fine Arts Gallery in New Orleans.