Conference explores race through art, science

By Angela Whited

The eighth annual American Studies Conference, “Visualizing Race: Three Episodes,” kicks off this evening with a visit to the exhibit “Race: Are We So Different?” at the Science Museum of Minnesota and continues through tomorrow afternoon.
Saturday’s events include the keynote address from Robin D.G. Kelley, Professor of History and American and Ethnicity Studies at the University of Southern California, and a trip to the Walker Art Center to view “Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love.”

“The conference looks at race through art, through science, and through critical discussion of history,” Dean for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and American Studies Chair Jane Rhodes said.

The race exhibit, a project of the American Anthropological Association, divides the study of race into three sections: the everyday experience of race, the science of human variation, and the history of the idea of race. Working together, the three segments explore the ways in which race pervades every aspect of American daily life, the lack of genetic basis for racial and ethnic categories, and the concurrent development and close links between the idea of race and the United States.

Rhodes said keynote speaker Kelley, who will speak at 11a.m. tomorrow, is “one of a handful of international scholars who is expert in this area.” He is quoted on the Science Museum poster and has previously written on the work of artist Kara Walker.

Walker’s exhibit uses black-paper silhouettes, film animations, and works on paper to depict historical narratives of slavery as well as its contemporary legacy. She is most renowned for the more than 30 room-sized installations she created in the silhouette medium that play off stereotypes in an effort to subvert them and reconfigure their significance.

“One of the curators from the Walker said our conference is the only activity in the Twin Cities linking the two exhibits,” Rhodes said.

This year’s events occur mostly off-campus contrasting with last year’s conference on environmental justice that featured work and presentations of Macalester students.

“This year is different in that we’re really forging out into the community…and taking advantage of these two extraordinary exhibits,” Rhodes said. “Sometimes the American Studies conference is more campus based and student focused….Arts and theater organizations have been a part of it.”

Free tickets for van transportation and admittance to the Walker and the Science Museum were available from the American Studies office as well as the Lealtad-Suzuki center and were all taken within the first two weeks of class. According to Rhodes, the department has requested that ticket holders who are unable to attend return their tickets so others may use them.

“I think everybody is really enthusiastic,” Rhodes said. “We just have to hope the weather cooperates.”