Backtalk: Artists on Native, African & African American Stereotypes

Intercultural Pedagogy

Backtalk: Artists on Native, African, and African American Stereotypes, Online exhibit, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA.

Backtalk: Artists on Native, African, and African American Stereotypes is part of a collaborative, broad-reaching examination on the persistence of racial and cultural stereotypes. Following the vision of Johnnetta Betsch Cole, director emerita, National Museum of African Art (NMAfA), to examine stereotypes across cultures, this online exhibition explores how select visual artists interrogate and engage racial and cultural stereotypes in their creative practice. The curatorial team chose to focus on a diverse group of artists from various backgrounds, geographies, and contexts who are represented in Smithsonian Institution collections and have addressed intersecting themes and subjects relevant to the impact of cultural and racial stereotypes. Backtalk features works by nine 20th- and 21st-century artists who capture, reflect, and/or speak back to the stereotype.

The project began as an examination of the ways in which artists are rewriting historical narratives that reinforce racial, cultural, and gender stereotypes through appropriation and subversion of the images traditionally used to stigmatize them. The pieces chosen are each in a Smithsonian collection and represent a range of strategies, including satire, parody, humor, and masking, in response to colonialist depictions of “the Other.” Audiences are invited to view the portrayals of race, gender, and culture in canonical Western paintings through a different lens—one in which the spectacle becomes the spectator and the passive subject becomes the agent. In the process, the power of artists to unveil and respond to social and cultural norms that perpetuate stereotypes is brought to life.

Related materials: KC55: Stereotypes provides a basic introduction to the topic intended to be accessible to undergraduates. This online exhibit would be a great extension of the topic for students.

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