You won’t find any explanations of the art at “Colored,” and that’s part of the point.
What you won’t find is a traditional gallery experience. Instead, in this groundbreaking show opening Dec. 29 in the Carpenters Building, you’ll see art that goes beyond space and time, linking artists of color from Tacoma to Trinidad and curating a hashtag-driven virtual catalog that will keep evolving.
“All of the works will be completely without context,” says Chris Jordan, the Tacoma digital and public artist who’s curating the United States leg of the show before it travels to Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, in the spring. “There are no artist statements — just the works and poems. It’s partly political: We’re not justifying or even translating to white audiences what these different pieces of the black experience are about. But it’s about the art. … We want to challenge people to look and really see, to allow the connections between people’s work to surface.”
Jordan has spent most of December covering the walls inside the building on South Fawcett Street with murals. Unlike his outdoor murals, these aren’t sprayed, but painstakingly created with brush and roller. The walls are 20 feet high and about 60 feet long, and Jordan had to prime them with black before beginning work.
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Then came the really tricky part because Jordan was painting these murals in inverse color, a photographic technique reversing colors to their negative opposite. (It’s now a feature on mobile devices to save battery life.) Working from photographs, he inverts the colors — skin tone becomes cyan, white becomes black — and paints it out on the wall.
The result is stunning. Towering figures doing seemingly ordinary things (sitting on a chair, holding objects) become mythical, mysterious, layered with obscurity. Textures and lines get reversed, hard things seem soft, background comes to foreground. You don’t know where you are.
That, says Jordan, is the whole idea of “Colored.” The artist — recent winner of City Arts Artist of the Year, a City of Tacoma AMOCAT and the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation of Art Award — first got the idea in 2010 when he organized an art event at The Evergreen State College, unpacking the layers of that controversial word.
“Some people were reclaiming it, others reject it,” he says. “I was interested in it because of the politics, but also the visual and language references.”
People loved it, and asked how the event could keep going.
Then in 2014, during a semester studying the African diaspora in Trinidad, Jordan saw an art show about the “douen” — a folklore character said to be the soul of a child who dies before being baptized.
“I knew almost nothing about that subject. I was completely out of context,” Jordan says. “And it was the first time I saw a show of predominantly artists of color that connected with everyone there.”
It also inspired Jordan to rethink the whole gallery show idea. As a digital and outdoor artist, galleries had been fairly useless to him, outmoded. But by creating a show that links the digital and online world with a temporal physical one, he’s achieved something in “Colored” that breaks all molds.
In the vast square Carpenters hall, Jordan and his team will set 90-degree divider walls in each corner, in front of the murals. Two more will split the center, with a small stage in the middle for spoken word artists. The work comes from both U.S. artists like Samantha Gabrielle (Portland), Devin Morris (Brooklyn) and Evelyn Hargrove (Tacoma), and Caribbean artists like Arnaldo James, who is taking the show to Trinidad. It’s predominantly projection based, but includes photo essays, paintings and collages a well as poetry printed and spoken. The opening night event features Oakland spoken word artist Joyce Lee, Kansas poet Blu the Baqi and Tacoma poet Charys Bailey, as well as three DJs.
But that’s just the beginning for “Colored.” Jordan’s making a time-lapse 360-degree video of the setup and event, which he’ll post Jan. 1 on the colored.xyz website. Other virtual reality and digital artworks will go online too, shared on social media and connected by the #colored2017 hashtag into a virtual, ongoing catalog.
Jordan even hopes to paint murals in the coming year in both Tacoma and Trinidad and label them with the hashtag, extending the lifespan of the online event for as many years as the murals last. (The inside ones will soon be hidden by the upcoming Carpenters hall renovation.)
Meanwhile, Tacoma gets to see the show first, with a three-day sneak preview for audiences of color. And no, there won’t be any explanation, except for those who take the time to read the poetry. It’s like a fishbowl conversation between black artists, Jordan says, that others — especially whites — are being allowed to overhear. Some people won’t get it, or even realize there are things they’re not getting.
For Jordan, it’s worth it.
“How do we get confident being outsiders, being bystanders?” he says. “I want to change viewers to be sensitive to, thoughtful about and suspicious about their assumptions about the work. I want to put viewers on a path to inquiry. … There’s something really important about that space that we’re accustomed to skipping.”
What: Multimedia art and spoken word show by artists of color.
When: Opening 7-11 p.m. Dec. 29 (preview Dec. 26-28 for people of color).
Where: Carpenters Building, 1322 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma. The exhibit moves to Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, in the spring. Also online.
Cost: $5, free if you post online with #colored2017.
Also: Try looking at Jordan’s murals via the inverse color feature on your phone.
Information: colored.xyz, #colored2017 on social media.