U of A assistant professor transforms old pieces of art to discuss race
TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - As Black History Month comes to an end, an associate professor at the University of Arizona is using his art to keep the conversation going.
Aaron Coleman started expressing himself first through graffiti, and then after graduating from Herron School of Art and Design at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, he got into printmaking.
Recently, he was inspired by a 1950s children’s coloring book that only depicted white children.
“They’re learning about color and the world around them, but what’s interesting to me is there’s no people of color in this book whatsoever,” said Coleman.
He’s turned the pages all black and white, which represent his background. He’s also removed parts of the captions, transforming the meaning. His other coloring book pieces are in color, a way of showing a more inclusive group of the people on the pages.
“The goal is to start conversation,” said Coleman.
His work marries the past and present. He’s also recently created several works in his exhibition, ”Monumental Shadows” that is inspired by the calls to tear down confederate statues throughout the United States.
Opposite that, he created two other works depicting what monuments he thinks could replace ones that have problematic histories.
Coleman suggested using one in honor of Henry “Box” Brown, a slave in the Virginia commonwealth who put himself in a box and shipped himself to Pennsylvania to abolitionists.
Another powerful piece Coleman has created is titled “The Cradle.” It came from his historical research where he learned about the history of medicine and surgical research of people of African descents. In a book there is a section on how slave owners used to dig circular holes in the ground so that when they wanted to whip pregnant slaves, they could lay them face down and not crush their stomachs.
“It makes you remember what was done to a certain group of people. It will completely change the way that you respond or treat that group of people,” said Coleman.
The pieces are also a part of a larger movement of amplified Black voices, artists and the conversations they evoke. It’s fueled by recent social unrest, and Coleman considers it bittersweet.
“I’m glad that this is at the front of the conversation now, but I’m also disappointed that it took these extremes to get us here and I’m also skeptical it will go away if things calm down,” said Coleman.
It’s why through his art he aims to keep momentum from fading. By not painting over the past, but transforming the way it’s viewed, in order to see its true colors.
“If I can take things that happened a long time ago, or seemingly a long time ago, and show you that a lot of similar things are happening now, that kind of sense of time opens people up a little bit more,” said Coleman.
Coleman’s work has been displayed all over the world, but you can view some of it in an online gallery.
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