BlackRepresents Art Gallery presented artwork by former UT art professor on Thursday evening, using depictions of past and present racial stereotypes to fuel a discussion on recent race-related events.
The gallery, which presented work by Michael Ray Charles, was open to the public and took place in the Gordon White Building. Charles brought up recent events, such as this past weekend’s demonstrations by NFL players.
In August 2016, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began a protest against police brutality when he knelt during the national anthem. Following President Donald Trump’s criticisms of protesting athletes at an Alabama rally this past weekend, more athletes followed suit — taking a knee, locking arms or staying in the locker rooms while the national anthem played before their games.
Trump later criticized the athletes from the weekend’s demonstrations and called for the NFL to change their policy to prevent the protests.
Charles said the athletes kneeling symbolizes contemplation and power and that the interpretations of the players’ protests show that the public still has yet to truly deal with differences.
“(The players were) well within (their) right to do that,” Charles said. “It achieves a meaningful goal in the long run, but it’s effective in ways that I did not anticipate. It’s steering the masses, hopefully, to constructive dialogue … I hope that my work will be provocative enough to spark interest to challenge people’s thinking.”
Students and faculty browsed Charles’ drawings and paintings at the gallery opening. Studio art sophomore Kalen McGuire said the gallery is about giving black culture the spotlight.
“I want white America to acknowledge that there has been some hiccups in the way that America was constructed,” McGuire said. “At the end of the day, as long (as) we are able to talk about this and have more healthy conversations about how we should go about our different opinions, we’ll be in a position to learn about each other.”
Art curator Cherise Smith gathered Charles’ artwork to compile the gallery. Smith said she has known Charles for over 12 years, and his work never disappoints.
“(It makes people) think about the state of black people of the United States and to think of troubling narratives that are created about black people,” Smith said. “I think people can learn not to use stereotypes, but also to recognize that they are stories and not reality.”