Sanctuaries of White Supremacy: Art Institutes and the Boundaries of White Spaces and Whiteness.

Friday, 20 July 2018: 18:15
Oral Presentation
David EMBRICK, University of Connecticut, USA
Simon WEFFER, Northern Illinois University, USA
Silvia DOMINGUEZ, Northeastern University, USA
The recent battles, both overt and subtle, regarding the removal of confederate statues and other symbols of white supremacy, is often assumed as a necessary action if the US, as a nation, is to move forward in terms of its racist past. On the one hand, some scholars argue that these acts represent a good first step in reclaiming white spaces in both our physical and mental landscapes. Other scholars argue, however, that, like the tip of an iceberg, the battle over the removal of confederate statues is miniscule against the larger foundation of white supremacy. That is, we need to pay more attention to the racial mechanisms present in our institutions and even larger social structures that serve to perpetuate both over and subtle racial discrimination. We side with the latter view, noting that US society is rife with various social institutions that serve the same purpose as the confederate statues that plague our parks, office, and other public spaces—to convey the message of white superiority. To that end, our project examines the elite “white spaces” of national art museums, specifically the Art Institute of Chicago; we interrogate the racial and class mechanisms that perpetuate racial emotions conveying who “belongs” and who should be “excluded” from general society. Museums, wittingly or unwittingly, are set up as physical monuments (i.e., white elite safe spaces) that attest to white superiority over other racial groups. Such racial expressions are not just conducted through the inclusion (and exclusion) of artifacts, but also through physical and mental barriers that promote or deny an authentic sense of belonging (e.g., frequent policing of the body, hostile/friendly attitudes, etc.).