Show review: Perceptions — The Black Male, Images of Dignity

TEACH THEM TO FISH: In his latest collection, artist Joseph A. Pearson places emphasis on capturing positive representations of black males.

Let’s start with the obvious: It’s very difficult to have a conversation about race. Something tells me that very sentence just lost me some readers. Others might already have comments ready for post. Comments, of course, are welcome. But part of the difficulty in conversing about race is that so many of us come at it with talking points already in mind.

This leads to another obvious point: In our modern day of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and all other social media platforms, it sometimes seems like it’s less about what is said and more about who says it first. This creates a lot of things — long rants, shared links, emojis and likes. What it doesn’t allow for, much less create, is pause. And without pause, there’s really no conversation. There’s just talking (or posting).

The latest art exhibit at the Pink Dog Creative in the River Arts District seems, in part, a response to all this talking at, rather than conversing with, or, better yet, thinking through. Perceptions: The Black Male, Images of Dignity is a showing of artists Joseph A. Pearson’s and Jessie Whitehead’s individual works. The exhibition — a combination of print and oil — is both visually stimulating and thought provoking.

Some of the works will call to mind recent events — the killings of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Michael Brown. These particular works will likely illicit those preconceived, go-to reactions addressed above. That, of course, is part of the exhibit’s point. These works want to remind us of issues our country faces. But they also want to remind us of our individual responses to these issues, in a setting where there aren’t talking heads to hear, posts to read, comments to share or respond to.

There is only you and the painting and all those wonderfully complex feelings in between.

These responses, however, are not brought to our attention right away. In fact, we won’t confront them until we reach the far end of the hallway’s long exhibit. Before that time we are offered a series of quiet moments — a father teaching his son and a friend how to fish; a young boy getting his haircut; a lone man, admiring his new vest and shoes. Scenes and images of seemingly zero political or social commentary.

This is the brilliance not only of the individual works, but the exhibit’s layout. The potential for new perceptions is offered as you walk the hall, long before you approach the more familiar, polarizing images and faces. The unfamiliar leads to the familiar in an attempt to momentarily disarm us all of our all-too-familiar preconceptions.

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist. For his weekly #tuesdayhistory tidbits on Asheville, follow him on Instagram @tcalder.

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5 thoughts on “Show review: Perceptions — The Black Male, Images of Dignity

  1. Hedy Fischer

    Thomas, thank you for a thoughtful and sensitive review of Joseph Pearson & Jessie Whitehead’s exhibit at Pink Dog Creative. It is one not to be missed.

  2. Leslie Travis

    Jessie Whitehead’s prints are particularly evocative of thoughtful, older men who have lived life with dignity and grace. They are beautiful universal portraits.

    • Gael Perry

      A very comprehensive and sensitive review on a thought provoking and necessary exhibit by Joseph Pearson and Jesse Whitehead. The portraits in the exhibit speak to a universally maligned group of human beings whose character has been assassinated in all media. Thank you , Thomas. “You got it” Will this review
      be published in the hard copy of Mountain Express since the exhibit runs through August 7?

      • Thomas

        Sorry for the delayed response, Gael. I appreciate the feedback. The review is an online feature and will not be featured in print.

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