Conceptions of White

Exhibition curated by John G. Hampton and Lillian O’Brien Davis, with works by Arthur Jafa, Barbara Meneley, Deanna Bowen, Fred Wilson, Hiram Powers, Howardena Pindell, Jennifer Chan, Jeremy Bailey, Ken Gonzales-Day, Michèle Lalonde, Nell Painter, Nicholas Galanin, Robert Morris, Ryan Kuo, and Artist once known, after Leochares.

Conceptions of White is an exhibition offering context and nuanced perspectives that help viewers grapple with contemporary configurations of White identity. The exhibition examines the origins, travel, and present reality of “Whiteness” as a concept and a racial invention that classifies degrees of civility/humanity. Select historical objects and artworks illustrate White origin myths within their historical context, revealing Whiteness as a North American, settler-colonial invention of the seventeenth century, created alongside “Blackness” and “Aboriginality.” The contemporary artists in this exhibition complicate this historical foundation by examining how these acts of racialization are felt today through concepts of White guilt, anxiety, supremacy, benevolence, fragility, and power. These artists force us to confront the ideology of cultural erasure embedded in the social construction of Whiteness, the ramifications of its continually expanding borders, and the society fostered by this relatively young theory of racial categorization. Together, the diverse narratives, images, and concepts presented in Conceptions of White examine the existential, experiential, and ethical dimensions of engaging in classifications of Whiteness, while also drawing on the conceptual connections between colonial Whiteness and the aesthetic, social, and philosophical meaning we ascribe to the colour white.

The exhibition is framed through a biracial lens with both curators seeking a clearer understanding of their own relationship to Whiteness. John G. Hampton (Chickasaw/Canadian/American) is the executive director and CEO of the MacKenzie Art Gallery and Lillian O’Brien Davis (Jamaican/Canadian) is the curator of exhibitions and public programming at Gallery 44.

Conceptions of White is organized by the MacKenzie Art Gallery.

Dates: January 11–April 15, 2023


Art Museum at the University of Toronto

University of Toronto Art Centre (in University College)

15 King’s College Circle

Image credit: Ken Gonzales-Day, The Wonder Gaze (St. James Park, CA. 1935), 2006–2022. Erased Lynchings series. Print and vinyl wall installation. Courtesy of the artist.

Conceptions of White

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