Potential Gallery CA art exhibit causes controversy with its culturally insensitive message, critics say
By By Maura Callahan
Nov 05, 2014 at 5:24 PM
An exhibition intended to be shown at Gallery CA, still in the very beginning stages of planning, has come under fire for communicating a culturally insensitive message. "Xenos," curated by Lizz Skalka, a current student at MICA, focuses on the relationship between the respective struggles of Jewish people and people of color.
In the original abstract for the exhibition posted on the call for entry on Facebook, Skalka wrote: "In the wake of the Michael Brown tragedy, and the advancement of the Gaza conflict, there is a turn back towards scapegoating, especially of African American and Jewish people. The similar and intertwining histories of these two cultural groups allow each to become a target. Carrying poor reputations and gross public representation, it is impossible to shake the chains of the past. Even now, there is a wealth of misinformation, which begets stereotyping, profiling, and ultimately, violence. 'Xenos' explores these issues, inviting those affected to comment on how and why anti-Semitism and racism have continued to shape our conventions."
The call for entry garnered some support, but the direct connection between the tragedy in Ferguson and the Gaza conflict spurred debate within and outside the Facebook page. There was particular objection to the abstract's failure to include the Palestinian struggle.
One commenter posted: "It is absurd to mention the 'Gaza conflict' (as they call it), racism, imprisoned, persecuted, assaulted people, and 'become a part of the conversation' and not mention the Palestinian people at all as part of the so-called conversation! They are victims of all these things under Israeli occupation. How can you conveniently bypass their plight under the theme you claim to care about?"
Another noted that, "there's a huge difference in power structure between African Americans and Israelis."
The page was soon revised to a much simpler and more opened-ended theme: "Xenos explores intertwining histories of two cultural groups, African American and Jewish people, by inviting artists to comment on how and why anti-Semitism and racism have continued to shape our conventions and our environments."
Gallery CA's general manager, Catherine Akins, said that the gallery had received threatening emails in response to the call for entry.
"The original call was more of an opinionated statement and wasn't as general as the call for entry usually is. We had to take a step back and we advised Lizz to select work from a larger pocket and curate from there," Akins said over the phone. She explained that, usually, a thread in an exhibition will be determined after selecting the works submitted to the call for entry. In this case, Skalka worked in reverse.
Gallery CA, located in the City Arts Building on East Oliver Street in Station North, has previously hosted exhibitions that have been critically well-received (often by City Paper). The gallery's recent shows focusing on African-American identity (Stephen Town's solo show, "Co|Patriot") and feminist concerns ("Gutsy") in conjunction with panel discussions have contributed to the growing dialogue of inclusivity in the arts.
Adkins says "Xenos" may be pulled altogether, but she hopes to see it continue under the new and more inclusive premise.