Sunday, February 26, 2017

Carla Hamilton's Gezielt (Targeted) Creatively Makes Us Think and Gives Us Something To Talk About

When Carla Hamilton told me about the concept she was working on for the Duluth Art Institute show that's now installed I could hardly wait to see what she'd create. I had high expectations, having written about her previous shows at Washington Gallery and the Red Mug, but exactly what form the imagery would take was impossible to guess. It shouldn't have surprised me that she exceeded my expectations on all counts.

Christa Lawler's article in Thursday's DNT sufficiently captures the trigger event that led to this show, titled Gezielt (Targeted). What you'll learn if you read the story is that Hamilton had an unexpected encounter with police while out with friends last year.

Reflecting on that night.
Perhaps most striking are the unexpected juxtapositions. Though Josh Williams's two large photos of Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken capture a cheerful playfulness, but the overall show is serious in intent. In two places we see displays of a set of hangman's nooses that link directly to the historic shame that occurred earlier in Duluth history. Her paintings and collages bear titles such as "Fear Equals Hate" and "Walking While Black" (which is the "crime" she committed.)

The quote she borrows from Mr. Rogers is about sharing responsibility. "We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say, 'It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.' Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes."

For me what is striking is how through a creative response to her eight-minute injustice (the length of time Hamilton was stopped by police and accused of bothering two white women who were her friends) a series of dialogues emerged. Though only a brief encounter with the police, the aftermath left her shaken. One picture is a life-sized image based on the camera footage she obtained from police as she was interrogated. After processing the experience they had a roundtable meeting with the police in which the officers came away with new perspectives.

The artist with Chief Tusken, an outing in the park. 
Mixed media piece with baby shoes.
But it's not just the police who have learned things through this encounter. One of the handouts in the exhibit is a publication of the National Black Poliece Assn. Inc. titled, "What To Do When Stopped By The Police." In addition to how to respond when stopped in your car or on the street, there are a dozen other DO's and DON'T's plus what to do when police knock at your door. As the saying goes, "Know your rights."

The overall tone is pitch perfect. The seriousness of the issues has not been obfuscated by the playfulness of some of the images. Hamilton acknowledges that she had a "full-blown panic attack" after the encounter. The trauma was real, but as the saying goes, "It's not what happens to you that matters as much as how you respond to it." She responded creatively, atypically.

The subject matter is not all fun and games.
In addition to the exhibition, located in the Steffl Gallery on the fourth floor balcony of the Depot, there will be an artist talk and community forum at 5:30 p.m. March 8 at The Underground. The panelists include Hamilton, Tusken, human rights officer Carl Crawford and Stephan Witherspoon of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The show will be on display at the Duluth Art Institute through April 9.

For further reading: The Lynchings In Duluth by Michael Fedo

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