Photo depicting hanging glass tiles with blue eyes staring out. Some of the tiles have text also printed on them along with the eyes.

‘Reckoning’ Exhibit at Seattle Central College Examines Racism and White Complicity

by Ronnie Estoque

Christina Reed began her art journey in the 1960s when she started weaving and making textural pieces of art. After having children, she attended the University of Washington School of Art and earned a B.F.A. in painting. There she studied alongside artists Jacob Lawrence and Michael Spafford, who significantly impacted her understanding of art and activism. Decades later, those themes are deeply present in her current exhibit at Seattle Central College. “Reckoning” dives into the interconnection of racism and whiteness and calls for audience members to undermine it.

Reed, who is white, says her art style has evolved over the years and that she has become more aware of the experience of BIPOC people through viewer feedback. She’s particularly mindful of how certain imagery displaying acts of racist violence impacts audiences.

“It was hard for, for People of Color to be re-traumatized by that imagery, even though I was obscuring it,” Reed said regarding her choice to utilize mirrors in her “Reflections” piece to be mindful of that potential trauma. “So, then I just moved towards just the onlookers, the perpetrators.”

Photo depicting a long mural of layered prints from Christina Reed's "Reckoning" art exhibit.
Reed’s work “Reckoning” is a large mural made of layered prints including archival material and her own photographs. (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)

The exhibit has three components: Reckoning, Regard: White Gaze, and Repair. Reckoning is a large mural composed of layered prints.The source material for the prints include Reed’s own photography, newspapers, legal documents, and other photographs from archives. Some of the prints feature text from the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling — in which the Supreme Court upheld segregation as constitutional — redlined neighborhoods, the United States Declaration of Independence, and many other historical documents.

Regard: White Gaze features glass fixtures that encourage its viewers to reflect on their own experiences with race. Glass ornaments hang from the ceiling, with designs of blue eyes that stare at the audience while also reflecting the exhibit space. 

“Let’s use art to look at this issue or this problem or this challenge … there’s this action part, which to me was so important,” says Meghan Trainor, interim art curator for the M. Rosetta Hunter Art Gallery at Seattle Central. “Here’s a mirror, literally and figuratively, being held up to what often is the invisibility of whiteness to white people.”

Trainor began curating at a trapeze art studio in the late 1990s and has experience putting together shows and live performances in New York’s Chelsea Arts District. She also happens to be an alumnus of Rainier Beach High School.

Repair, the third component of the exhibit, encourages viewers to feel empowered after leaving the space. A poster is provided on the wall where students can write ideas on how they can dismantle racism within their own lives and see what has been written previously by their peers. Some of the examples include more support for BIPOC-owned businesses and the importance of educating and speaking up for those that need support.

“From an educational standpoint, [art] teaches critical thinking; it teaches you a way to approach things in new ways that’s important for every aspect of life,” Trainor said regarding her passion for art. “We’re able to have a different language to express ourselves in one that is universal.”

Photo depicting a black T-shirt along with handing cards as part of Christina Reed's "Repair" segment of her art exhibit.
As well as reflecting on experiences of race, Reed wants viewers to feel empowered when they leave the exhibit through an accompanying action component called “Repair.” (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)

For example, the exhibit’s exploration of the practice of redlining — which was used to segregate cities into neighborhoods — encouraged one Seattle Central student (originally from L.A.) to learn more about how that racist practice has shaped Seattle’s demographics and geography. 

“You might not understand why the North End is different than the South End, you might not understand how these institutions functioned.” 

And these are the types of interactions that Reed hopes her work inspires.

“The community engagement piece of it is core,” Reed said. “And so I hope … [you] look at the work and have it touched you in some way and to think about it and start to ask questions.”

“Reckoning” began its run at Seattle Central in early January and will finish on March 24.

Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.

📸 Featured Image: Christina Reed’s “Regard: White Gaze” uses glass elements to encourage viewers to reflect on their own experiences with race. (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)

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