Reserved is a limiting label that is painful to unpeel. Shy is another description that can limit others’ expectations of an individual. Multidisciplinary Artist Amanda Wallace is a self-described minority and Woman in Tech colleague of Regina Larre Campuzano of the Spokane Washington fine arts and technology lab. Like Regina, Amanda is allowing audiences to experience in a sensory way what life is like through her eyes. For Regina, sound is primary. For Amanda, she chose to learn code in order to create overlays and spinning visuals to share her thoughts on race and history in the making.
Reserved and shy were some of the words written on adhesive labels and applied directly to Amanda’s skin. The artist chose to make literal, tangible and concrete what is abstract, distant and hard-to-imagine for others.
We use a jury process here at Laboratory to make sure we get a diversity of viewpoints in our selection process. With Amanda’s application, our jury was really excited about Amanda’s work dealing with her experience as an African-American in the modern world, and especially interested in bringing an artist living in a city with a large minority population to Spokane, where we have like, 3 black people (joking aside, only 3% of the population is African-American here). We were really motivated to bring her practice here to engage our community with racial issues in light of the ongoing national conversation around racial justice, and her timing couldn’t have been more perfect with the Rachel Dolezal situation occurring just before her visit. It was also really exciting for us, from a mentorship standpoint, to help Amanda transition her practice from primarily photography and video work into interactive art – the interactive art space has a lot of white dudes in it, and bringing some more voices to practice in the medium is going to be really important for the field’s development.–Alan Chatham
Alan Chatham and a jury of advisors at the Spokane Lab recognized Amanda Wallace’s art as especially timely so invited her to join the residency. Chatham explains that the demographic served by the lab is less than 3% minority and that it would be beneficial to the community for understanding in the climate of racial violence in national news.
Our Editor-in-Chief Renee Marchol became a Washington State resident a year ago and can verify that there is less diversity in let’s say Everett WA than SF CA not because Everett is racist and that San Francisco is morally superior but that’s the way geography and job opportunities have made it so. Just as Renee observed that Everett neighbors found her curious as a Chinese American woman doing a eco sport documentary, Spokane had yet to have the chance to meet more African American women with psychology degrees and conceptual art to share with coding.
For the piece “Unpeeling/Unpiling Amanda Wallace solicited others to contribute to the word bank used for labels. She was the only subject recorded. The solicitation of words from others is a form of interaction.
For “Field | House” completed by Amanda Wallace at the Spokane Laboratory, she was not the subject. Instead she used “found” imagery and footage for the visuals. “Field|House” has text originally written by Amanda Wallace but she was free from “subjecting” her visible body to the artwork. The piece is interactive depending on how long the viewer stands in front of the piece because the experience is at the command of the viewer like all art.
Another reason? Amanda Wallace describes artists as champions of contemplation. She teaches part-time but through her art she teaches full-time. When she teaches high school students and adults taking college courses she assists them in overcoming barriers for empathy for others. Like Artist Regina, Amanda guides viewers to recognize wrong assumptions and equips the audience to remove lenses that distort.
An image of a clothesline and a hanging hairpiece (a weave) with a black woman in the background
How do her students begin discussion? The first assumption is an extreme one: her students assume a negative assumption that the message is of self-hate and rejection of natural hair. For more, read “Hair Stories Untold“.
That isn’t always the case and that isn’t the end of the conversation. Like Regina Larre Campuzano, Amanda Wallace challenges the viewer to consider other possibilities that require empathy: as an individual what might this person be thinking. Group-lumping is also severely limiting. It halts thinking by ending exploration and the stamina for understanding another human. Maybe the individual enjoys variety and changes hair decoration like any other clothing accessory. This is a new future, one that does not dismiss another as alien and lacking the same breadth of wants and needs of human expression.
That’s not to say that hair isn’t a controversial topic. Our Editor-in-Chief Renee Marchol currently bleaches her natural black hair nearly platinum blonde to stir conversation about identity and individual freedom too. In Renee’s case just as her blonde female colleagues have championed for respect for Asians on the nearby UCLA campus, Renee dyes her hair yellow so she can field sexist blonde jokes that her allies are pummelled. As a Oh yeah? Say that to me if you dare to say that to my friend. Plus Renee likes variety and her fave aesthetics are from the mysterious deep ocean where creatures are eyeless, gelatinous or strikingly hued. Becoming eyeless or jellyfish-like is not on the menu yet for Renee but no promises.
Renee is Chinese American and the public often reminds her of that difference though her message is shared human experiences. So Renee shared with Amanda her complaint about “hijacking”: when corporations use emotional ads with a seemingly advocacy role to sell product.
Likewise Amanda also feels a sense of loss when major brands in mainstream markets take on natural hair care for African American customers. Why? Because its corporate giants rather than grassroots. It does not come from the authentic community.
Amanda Wallace would also be pleased if street teams would be willing to wear “future histories” t-shirts and walk as interactive art suggesting that the simple act of interacting with a stranger on the sidewalk where meetings between the majority and minority are unfamiliar we are changing the course of history for the better.
For more about Amanda’s current work including conceptual interactive art about the black body, colorism and the contrast of images of lynching with Bree Newsome’s famous climb up a flagpole to remove a Confederate Flag visit www.amandarwallace.com