Ross School - Senior Project 2006-07

Student: Hallie Tosher

Mentor: Therese Lichtenstein

Consultant: Alicia Longwell

Domain: Visual Arts

Product                            

Title: talking back: identity and representation

Description:

The goal of my Senior Project was to grasp and absorb the concept of identity and the relationship between individual and group identity in contemporary American society. I interviewed three different fascinating people from various backgrounds (age, class, race, and sexuality.) I explored the struggles these people faced with different issues including racism, homophobia, sexism, etc. My final product was a multimedia exhibition that included large-scale digital photography, oil paintings with collaged elements, personal writings and excerpts from the interviews of my three subjects. I would like viewers to recognize societal prejudice through the installation of my work and to understand the complexity of one’s identity, without constructing stereotypes.

Details:

The three paintings are 3ft by 3ft. The photographs are roughly 4in. by 12in. Next to each painting is a pedestal with a booklet on top containing the interviews, full photos of each individual, biographies, and some extra information.

Gallery (image 1 / image 2)

Ken (painting / photograph / interview / bio)

Maggie (painting / photograph / interview / bio)

Michi (painting / photograph / interview / bio)

Abstract

The goal of my senior project was to grasp and absorb the concept of identity and the relationship between individual and group identity in contemporary American society. I interviewed three different fascinating people from various backgrounds (age, class, race, and sexuality.) I explored the struggles these people faced with different issues including racism, homophobia, sexism, etc. My final product was a multimedia exhibition that included large-scale digital photography, oil paintings with collaged elements, and excerpts from the interviews of my three subjects all in an interactive installation. I would like viewers to recognize societal prejudice through the installation of my work and to understand the complexity of one’s identity, without constructing stereotypes.

I chose this project because this topic had personal significance to me. In middle school I used to be very outgoing and assertive and then when I made my way to high school I lost that adamant voice and became shyer. I felt like this wasn’t the real me. I then realized that I needed to find a balance between the quiet listener and the loud assertive person. This made me become conscious of the fact that all identities are complex. No one fits into a superficial mold of just the “loud one, the shy one, the funny one.” Stereotyping or trying to fit people into that certain type is unrealistic and not true; there are many layers to a person. This was the very personal aspect that triggered the start of my project but I also had a strong interest in human rights and history that generated this idea. All my life I have been very interested in human rights. Through my project I wanted to find out about different peoples lives and the injustices they’ve had to face due to ignorance. I wanted to look back into historical events and examine not only the cause of that occurrence but the affect it had on individuals. By doing my interviews, I found out various historical episodes that impacted and even shaped my subjects lives. I looked at the momentous Stone Wall Riots, the traumas of World War II, and the devastation of John F. Kennedy’s assassination among some. Through my project, I really aspired to open people’s eyes to diversity. I did not want people to use phrases like “that’s so gay” because they then adopt a derogatory meaning. I feel very strongly about granting everyone the same basic civil liberties they deserve. By doing this senior project I wanted the viewers to become aware of this very simple fact that we sometimes take for granted.

Through a lot of struggle with painting, searching for materials, complications with printing, obstacles with the installation, and research of both various artists, photographers, writers, my subjects and historical events, I met my objective. My product was something I was extremely proud of. I worked hard to get an end result that included not only my product but also a documentation of my process and a concluding presentation.

Bibliography or Works Cited

Berger, Maurice. White: Whiteness and Race in Contemporary Art. Maryland: Center for Art and Visual Culture, 2004. Maurice Berger investigates what it means to be white. He writes about racial prejudice and the persistence of it today. Berger says that one must acknowledge the reality of racism.

Dorph, Ken. Personal Interview. 16 Oct. 2006. Ken Dorph speaks about being a progressive thinker, a homosexual male, a conscious person and father. He talks of his career being a scholar and a businessman while undergoing an identity shift.

Ficara, John. Distant Echoes: Black Farmers in America. Reginald F. Lewis Museum, Balitmore. July 2007. John Ficara displays beautiful images of regular farmers. He traveled around taking pictures of these farmers and shows the struggle they have to go through in this day and age.

Giard, Robert. Particular Voices Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers. Library of Congress Cataloging, 1997.  Robert Giard’s images are beautiful and poetic. Each photo is individualized to each person with his or her own writings and/or poetry. The book is addressing a specific subject but it is subtle, sweet and interesting.

Itami, Michi. Personal Interview. 12 Oct. 2006. Michi Itami speaks about being an artist and a loving family member. She talks about her pride in being a Japanese-American and how her distressing past affects both her artwork and her life.

Legacies: Contemporary Artists Reflect on Slavery. New York Historical Society. New York, New York. July 2007.  This exhibition featured thirteen different artists. The art was very contemporary and shocking. Although I did not like the art, I respected the subject matter, which was about racism and slavery. Some of the work was very in your face and made someone uncomfortable because it was somewhat accusing.

Simpson, Lorna and Sarah J. Rogers, Interior/Exterior, Full/Empty. Ohio: Wexner Center for the Arts, 1997. Lorna Simpson explores first the idea of being a black female and then transitions to that of exploring the complexities of identities. The book contains photos that illustrate a narrative. Some of the images are soft yet others are harsh and unconcealed.

Williams, Margaret. Personal Interview. 23 Sept. 2006. Maggie Williams talks about being an African American woman working in both community service and in the political world. She talks about her strength and insecurities, revealing the complexity her identity. She speaks about the historical events that affected her life: John F. Kennedy’s assignation, the Kennedy/Nixon debates, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s, I Have a Dream Speech.

Community Member (Details)

My community member is Alicia Longwell, a curator from the Parish art museum. We have communicated via e-mail: discussing not only the process of my product but also the process of putting together an installation. This is a difficult process that takes a lot of experimentation, which I have come to realize. Unfortunately, we have not been able to meet up because of scheduling but I have been trying for about 3 weeks. We have made several meetings but for one reason or another she has had to cancel. She is going to come around the beginning of m-term and I am anxious to hear her final response.