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These Women Dare to Question Racial Biases

Catherine Edelman Gallery in Chicago will open the fall season with How do you see me, an exhibition featuring three women who confront the way African Americans are perceived in art, the work place, and through their physical appearance.

Alanna Airitam, Endia Beal and Medina Dugger are the artists included in the show, on view from September 7 through October 27, 2018. Their work questions racial stereotypes and biases that are seen in our history books and continue to exist today.

When Alanna Airitam (b. 1971, Queens, NY) was studying art history, she noticed the absence of black people she identified with in Western art. This exclusion is familiar to many people of color who are used to seeing themselves represented in paintings and films only as domestic workers, slaves or inhuman. “I believe we also need to see people of color in works of art that show our beauty, grace and pride of culture,” writes Airitam in her artist statement. “Children need to see images of people who look like them adorned, abundant and majestic.” By inviting African Americans to pose in the style of classic Dutch portraiture, Airitam reclaims art history, shining a light on racial disparity in her series, “The Golden Age.”

Endia Beal (b. 1985, Winston-Salem, NC) focuses her camera on how African American women are perceived in a corporate workplace based on their physical appearance. As a young black woman in a mostly white dominated corporate job, Beal knew people talked about her hair, which did not conform to their definition of beauty or professionalism. Now, as a professor at Winston Salem State University, Beal tackles the stereotypes and fears that her students and other black women face when they allegedly don’t fit the corporate mold. “Am I What You’re Looking For?” poses black women in front of a photographic backdrop of a typical office setting. Through this work, Beal challenges the viewer to look at their own biases or stereotypes as they view the photographs.

Medina Dugger (b. 1983, Corpus Christi, TX) pays homage to Nigerian photographer J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere, whose 40-year black and white photographic study of African women’s hairstyles set the standard for the celebration of black hair culture. African hair braiding methods date back thousands of years and Nigerian hair culture is a rich and often extensive process, which begins in childhood. The methods and variations have been influenced by social/cultural patterns, historical events and globalization. Hairdos range from being purely decorative to conveying deeper, more symbolic understandings, revealing social status, age and tribal/family traditions. In her Lagos studio, Dugger pays homage to historical and imagined hairstyles, honoring Ojeikere’s work through a contemporary lens in her series “Chroma: An Ode to J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere.”

How do you see me
Catherine Edelman Gallery
September 7 – October 27, 2018

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