Race Cards review: 'An important journey through identity politics'
19 Dec 2017
Journalist Jessica Rings reflects on Selina Thompson’s challenging and provocative exhibition.
Selina Thompson’s Race Cards makes even the most open minded of us feel ignorant as she takes us on an important journey through identity politics with her 1000 questions about race.
The exhibition is 'a good old purge' as Selina describes it herself, and so it’s important to start at the beginning to understand the sequence. The white cards are hung in rows against a black background, numbered with the first on the far left of the room - 0001. It feels natural to read, column by column until you make it to the end - 1000.
Whether they are read in parts or in their entirety, it is clear that the questions were written in a stream of consciousness. As you read them to yourself silently they seem organic in their order, as if they could have been thoughts of your own. Except many of them are notions that you would never have evoked independently. Each one opening a door to a part of the brain you didn’t know existed. Sparking memories of something you said or did, or a stereotype you proliferated or played into.
A journey through history, the questions draw on our colonial past and explore the roots of racism throughout the world. Then fast-forward through popular culture and politics until looking to the future to ask how the exhibition would look in 100 years’ time, although not necessarily in a tidy chronological order. Many of the questions go on to answer themselves later on. Some are statements attached to questions. They are, mostly, educational and rhetorical. It feels as if answering the questions is unimportant, but that the correct response is to embark on a personal internal dialogue.
A minimum of an hour should be left to be fully immersed in the exhibition and time should be taken to understand the questions. Some of them are simple, while others need to be read two or three times. Mostly they are challenging. They muster a range of emotions. Angry, sad, frustrated, thoughtful, elated and eventually numb. The numbness comes from exhaustion. As the mind works overtime to make sense of everything that has been read, it starts to feel like an empty vessel of white noise.
Eventually the white noise starts to untangle. Over the next few days soundbites of new knowledge become recognisable. The questions spring back to you in the shower or on the commute to work; broken down and easier to digest. You begin to assess, reassess and assess again your view on class, gender and most prominently race, although as the exhibition makes clear, these three categories are inextricably linked.
The individual experience of Selina’s work is likely to differ as dramatically as the experiences people of colour have of race. Race Cards is not sugar coated. It is challenging and provocative. As are most of the worthwhile things in life.