I Am My White Ancestors:
Claiming the Legacy of Oppression
I Am My White Ancestors is a multi-disciplinary installation of thirteen life-size photographic self-portraits that explores European-American heritage, my family, and their role in the history of race, class, colonization, and genocide. The ancestors, real and imagined, span over 2000 years from the Celtic Iron Age to present day Portland, Oregon. The 7 ft x 5 ft portraits, printed on fabric panels, are accompanied by short audio diaries from the perspective of each ancestor. The portraits show how I have embodied each character to understand and embrace my history. The repeated faces illustrate beliefs being passed down through the generations like DNA. The audio diaries reveal the historical events and traumas that shaped each ancestor and caused them to act our oppressive behaviors. To respond to the work, viewers can post questions and answers at a sharing station.
The goals of this artwork are to make European American history and identity visible and to inspire white viewers in particular to claim both positive and negative aspects of their own family histories as a step towards participating in the end of racism. The installation supports broad community outreach on anti-racism education, social justice, gender roles, and history. It uses the power of art for both understanding and social action.
As a multi-disciplinary project, this artwork is of interest to many different groups who are positioned to explore, share, and put into practice new ideas and information. Within an educational setting, it is relevant for classes in art, theater, and general humanities including gender roles, history, sociology, English, social justice and more. To engage students, the exhibit includes a teacher’s guide to help high school and college instructors utilize the exhibit in their classes. They will learn about history in a personal way, be invited to examine their own lives, and inspired to take action.
Religious congregations and non profits with social justice goals also find this show useful for group discussion. These groups will be able to use the exhibit to further their own goals by hosting special events and promoting it to their members. The project will engage visitors to reframe the concept of white heritage and its relation to racism and its companion oppressions of classism, colonization, and genocide and then take a wide range of actions.
Public Engagement Programming
• Gallery talks by the artist
• Sharing Station within exhibit
• Facilitated discussions, panels, and workshops organized with community partners
• Companion exhibit
• Teacher’s Guide available to high school and college educators and leaders of groups of any age
Please inquire for rental, shipping, travel, lecture, and workshop fees.
Watch this video and audio clip of Mark Mawer, 17 century Scottish farmer who was a juror on a witch trial.
• 100 linear feet of display space. Portraits can also be hung back to back from the ceiling in the middle of the room.
• Table and chairs for Sharing Station
• Insured exhibit space
• Wifi access
• Thirteen 84” x 54” photographic portraits on fabric panels
• Curtain rods and mounting hardware
• Sharing Station materials
• Thirteen audio diaries accessed via internet
• Portrait name plates, 12” x 12”
• Title sign, 18” x 24”
• Artist Statement sign, 18” x 18”
• Accordion Books for sale
• PDF file of Teachers Guide
Who are the ancestors? They are a carefully selected group of people, 11 real and 2 imagined. In the U.S, the list includes two slaveholders from South Carolina and a pilgrim from Plymouth Colony who gained land and resources from the Wampanoag people. Traveling back in time to Britain, I chose a Scottish farmer who was a juror on a witch trial, an English mercenary soldier and social climber who fought to colonize Ireland, and an English noblewoman caught in the middle of the Wars of the Roses. In the medieval era there is a Basel cheese maker who supported the execution of Jews during the Black Death, King Edward I of England who conquered Wales, invaded Scotland, and expelled Jews from England, and a Frankish countess who became a nun and benefited from the colonization of Jerusalem during the Crusades. Lastly, I found a Norman knight who helped Duke William conquer England, a female viking who invaded Orkney, and a gold metalworker from the Celtic Iron Age who supported the warrior elite. And to bring it all together in the present, it ends with a self-portrait of my contemporary self.