Race Dialogue Continued in Beard & Weil Galleries

Unsettled: One Hundred Years at War and Resistance
Johannesburg in Print
The Planetarium of Black Indian Constellations
September 1-October 17, 2015

Sarah Chin ’18

The three exhibitions on display at the Beard & Weil Galleries, Unsettled: One Hundred Years at War and Resistance, Johannesburg in Print, and The Planetarium of Black Indian Constellations deliver a visually stimulating dialogue about racial identity and stereotypes through a variety of mediums, from photographs to print work. The exhibition could not be shown at a more relevant time for Wheaton College, with the recent Baltimore riots, and the appearance of racial hate speech in the Meadows dormitory. Cedric Nunn, a South African artist, provides a narrative of the nine wars between the Xhosa and the Afrikaner and the British colonists in 1779-1879 in Unsettled.[1] The exhibit features twenty-five black and white photographs of bleak non-descript landscape and decayed buildings. In an interview with Professor Kim Miller, Nunn divulges that his own personal ignorance of South African history birthed the main idea behind Unsettled.[2] Nunn’s lack of knowledge, and by extension our own, of South Africa’s past is highlighted in the desolate unidentifiable countryside and ruins featured in the photographs. We are only able to discern and understand the historic significance and meaning these photographs have through the accompanying texts, which only serves to further confront our Eurocentric knowledge. James Montford’s The Planetarium of Black Indian Constellations utilizes collage to display commonly culturally appropriated symbols and racial imagery, such as the “hands-up” gesture and Native American headdresses, placed within an outer space setting. Using volatile racial symbolism, science fiction, and a hefty dose of humor, Montford confronts the racial landscape and current debate of the United States frankly and head on. Johannesburg in Print is a compendium of print work executed at the David Krut Workshop, a Johannesburg fine art printmaking workshop. Each work is unique, both in medium and subject matter. However, each print’s singular message is altered when placed in conversation with the other two exhibits. For example, take Locust Jones’ 3am (2012), a frenzied and chaotic black and white drypoint print. The explosive indistinct and scribbled figures interact with organized grid-like patterns, which present an interesting visual dynamic between structure and disorder. The noisy and tumultuous nature of 3am captures the constant onslaught of media and information in a digital age. As Jones explains: “They’re like a vent for the anger and the repulsion that I feel when I read the news or any particular story that upsets me or makes me angry, which is probably why they appear so graphic and violent.”[3] The anonymity of Jones’ figures and lack of identifiable details within 3am lead us to consider the work is not a response to a specific current event, but to many. Nevertheless, when placed in conversation with Unsettled and Planetarium, the subject matter of 3am turns less general and more distinct. Specifically, when we look at 3am within the exhibit, it is hard to not think of the current racial tension, debate, and biases within the United States. For example, a series of anonymous, black figures on the lower left corner of 3am evoke images of protestors at the Black Lives Matter march in New York in April of 2015, or perhaps more chillingly, of the string of young black men killed through police actions.

In a community that prides itself on diversity and racial awareness, evidenced through clubs and classes like Distinguished Women of Color Collective and Beyond the West, the recent presence of racial slurs at Wheaton College only demonstrates that our conversation surrounding race could be further developed. The current exhibitions visually confront our ideas and add to our knowledge of racial identity and racism, which only serves to extend and compliment the current dialogue on campus and in the United States.


[1] Suzanne Volmer, “Examining South Africa at Beard and Weil: A Thought-Provoking Dialogue in Three Exhibits.” Artscope, September-October 2015, 32

[2] Michele L’Heureux, Cedric Nunn: Unsettled: One Hundred Years War of Resistance. Beard & Weil Galleries. September-October 2015. Exhibition Brochure.

[3] Locust Jones, “Art Nation—Locust Jones”, ABC Arts Australia. July 15, 2011. http://www.abc.net.au/arts/stories/s3270502.htm