Claudia Rankine in Banff: On White Supremacy, Art and America


Leah Sandals presents Jamaican-born poet, essayist, and playwright Claudia Rankine, who shared her views on white supremacy, art and race in a July lecture at the Banff Centre. The article includes her thoughts on “Studying the White Orientation of the Trump Era,” “Advice and Observations for Museums, Curators and Teachers Today,” and “Possible Questions and Takeaways for Canadian Art Institutions.” Read the full article at Canadian Art; excerpts below. Sandals writes:

In Rankine’s July 26 public talk—part of a small, unique residency program called “Banff Research in Culture: Year 2067”—the founder of the Racial Imaginary Institute masterfully led the audience through a series of images and narratives exploring whiteness in both popular and fine-art culture.

Given the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville on August 11 and 12— just a few weeks after her talk—the research Rankine presented in Banff has become even more vital and necessary.

From reflecting on Louis CK’s stand-up routine about how he loves being white (at least in the present) to noting how the photography of Ansel Adams and Carleton Watkins have played into notions of “white greatness and white ownership of the country,” Rankine’s public talk in Banff covered a wide, white ground, revealing white supremacy, white fragility and anti-Black racism in sites where it is often undetected or overlooked—at least by those who have enough white privilege to do so.

Her message: It’s beyond time to look more closely at whiteness both within and beyond art, curation and other cultural spheres. Of course, this isn’t just a US issue—there are plenty of implications and takeaways for Canadian art institutions to consider, here, too.

[. . .] That recognition of the white supremacy tied up with America was laid bare in the fact that Trump had “an overt white nationalist orientation,” noted Rankine—and yet was still elected. “Trump’s rise to power had to do with wilful ignorance of white supremacy,” Rankine elucidated.

[. . .] Claudia Rankine and the Racial Imaginary Institute, which she started with her McArthur “Genius” Grant, ran an event called “Perspectives on Race and Representation” at the Whitney in April—an event sparked by controversy over Dana Schutz’s painting of Emmett Till in the Whitney Biennial.

While Rankine wanted to do the event, she noted that it was not until after that event that she heard of Whitney higher-ups actually starting to initiate conversations on bias within the institution itself. “They never had thought before about how race functioned within the Whitney,” said Rankine.

[. . .] In recent years, there have been an increasing number of examples of Canadian art institutions that are trying to correct a white-centric narrative in their operations and programs.

The most obvious federal example at the moment is the National Gallery of Canada’s recent project of combining objects from its historical Canadian art collections and its historical Indigenous art collections into a single set of spaces that it calls its “Canadian and Indigenous Galleries.” [. . .]

For full article, see

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