Associate Professor of American Studies Beck Krefting curated the exhibition When and Where I Enter with students in her spring 2018 “Critical Whiteness” course.
Associate Professor of American Studies
The relationship between you and art is active—you make meaning of the object you see in front of you. The exhibition When and Where I Enter sought to guide that meaning-making process by tasking visitors with empathic looking. Imagine how it feels to fight in a war for democracy while serving in racially segregated divisions like the African American men of World War II, depicted in Joachim Schmid’s found photography work, did. Empathic looking means to simultaneously engage with racialized, gendered, and classed histories, connect them to the present, and pause for self-reflection. In those pauses, ideological winds stir and fires of change ignite.
Fifteen Skidmore College students and I co-curated When and Where I Enter as part of coursework for the upper-level American studies seminar “Critical Whiteness.” Students applied course concepts to art objects, researching nearly fifty works from the Tang collection. The twelve works selected displace the white subject, call attention to histories of colonization and exploitation, reflect shifting constructions of race, and beg questions of cultural appropriation. Students learned about the curatorial process and wrote the introductory text and extended labels for a brochure that accompanied the exhibition. For most students, this experience was their first time analyzing and writing about art. In a society that casts white as the invisible norm, as the default, as the unspoken, this exhibition attempted to make whiteness strange.
Critical whiteness studies is an interdisciplinary field that examines race as historically, geographically, and globally contextual and contingent; and it examines whiteness as a system of privilege and part of a larger constructed racial order. In the course, we use historical accounts, legal cases, literature, and art to examine the shifting constructions of race in the United States at various points in the country’s history. We attend to the ways science, law, government, and religion colluded in the creation of a racial order predicated on white supremacy. Artists have long sought to capture and recapitulate these realities back to the masses.