The exhibition portion of On Whiteness aims to take advantage of art’s powerful ability to reframe dominant ways of seeing, especially with regard to philosopher Sara Ahmed’s postulation of whiteness as a "habit," whose power to form and sustain specific social behaviors and institutions resides in its being taken entirely for granted. As Ahmed proposes: “Whiteness is what bodies do, where the body takes shape of the action…. spaces are oriented ‘around’ whiteness, insofar as whiteness is not seen.” By disorienting the particularly habituated space of the white cube gallery, the work in this exhibition questions, marks, and checks whiteness, challenging its dominance as it operates through default positions in cultural behavior.
Artists in the exhibition include Josh Begley, Paul Chan, Mel Chin, Ja’Tovia Gary, Ken Gonzales-Day, Kate Greenstreet, Titus Kaphar, Baseera Khan, Charlotte Lagarde, Seung-Min Lee, Glenn Ligon, Mores McWreath, Sandeep Mukherjee, Native Art Department International, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Tim Rollins and K.O.S., Cindy Sherman, Rodrigo Valenzuela, and Anicka Yi.
Since their creation last year, The Racial Imaginary Institute has focused on whiteness as a starting point, noting, “Whiteness as a source of unquestioned power, and as a ‘bloc,’ feels itself to be endangered even as it retains its hold on power.” Through a group exhibition, performances, residencies and a symposium, On Whiteness aims to create a collaborative space to question, mark, and check whiteness, challenging its dominance as it operates through default positions in cultural behavior.
A foundational text for the project is philosopher Sara Ahmed’s text “The Phenomenology of Whiteness,”in which she describes whiteness as an “ongoing and unfinished history, which orientates bodies in specific directions, affecting how they ‘take up’ space, and what they ‘can do.’” In particular, Ahmed asks us to consider “‘institutions’ as orientation devices, which take the shape of ‘what’ resides within them.” Acknowledging how institutions have the power to shape social meaning, The Kitchen and The Racial Imaginary Institute stage their intervention in existing cultural spaces, seeking to extend programming and outreach towards a deliberate consideration of race.
Organized by Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels, Sara’o Bery, LeRonn P. Brooks, Steven Glavey, Cathy Park Hong, Casey Llewellyn, Claudia Rankine, Simon Wu, and Monica Youn of The Racial Imaginary Institute, and The Kitchen curatorial team.