I Am My White Ancestors: Claiming the Legacy of Oppression
is a touring installation and public engagement project. It contains thirteen life-size photographic self-portraits that explore European-American heritage, family history, and its legacy of oppression in the history of race, class, colonization, and genocide. The personas, real and imagined, span over 2000 years from the Celtic Iron Age to the present day with the artist’s contemporary self-portrait. The 84” x 54” portraits, printed on fabric panels, are accompanied by audio and written narratives from the perspective of each character. The project was initially exhibited in 2016 at Clackamas Community College, Oregon City, Oregon and also was shown at Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts. My dream venue is a school that wants to collaborate with me on a program that includes conversations, lectures, and class assignments about racism and whiteness.
I have always used art to explain the world. I love how disparate elements can be combined to transform complex issues. And more personally, I love what that process can do to me. My work is primarily content driven, which means that the form changes to accommodate content. For my recent project, I researched genealogy, designed and sewed historical costumes, painted backdrops, and wrote and recorded audio stories. It is important to me to be clear about my message but I also hope that people will come upon their own interpretation and understanding.
I have been working on my racism for about 25 years but it wasn’t until I created I Am My White Ancestors that things became real. There was something about going public as a white person that highlighted my fear of challenging the rules and getting attacked. Evidently it is not ok to talk about being white so blatantly. Each time I described the project to a new person I steeled myself for their confusion and possible judgment. Even saying the title felt like a risk. But it also opened a door into a wider and richer world that I never knew existed in my white bubble.
My initial goal was to “claim my people” and see if I could find the…