“To Whom It May Concern” Tackles Race and Identity Through Art

The artist Genevieve Gaignard shows several female characters in her exhibition, including this one from “Vanilla Ice”. – Contributor / Morgan Murnane

Rowan’s Art Gallery hosted an opening reception on September 15th for their latest installation, To Whom It May Concern, which featured the work of multidisciplinary artist Genevieve Gaignard. The exhibition featured a curated collection of Gaignard’s work, ranging from photography to collage and installation.

Eleven pieces were on display, including three chromogenic prints, six mixed media pieces, a corner cabinet and an archival inkjet print. The gallery contained work from Gaignard’s first Los Angeles exhibitions and extended to her most recent opening to show a full display of her art.

“[The art gallery’s curator, Mary Salvante and I] both agreed that a presentation of my different ways of working would be most useful,” said Gaignard. “… to see the reach, the growth and where I need to do more; delve a little deeper.”

Artist Genevieve Gaignard and gallery curator Mary Salvante pose in front of the exhibition’s biography. – Contributor / Morgan Murnane

Gaignard uses her identity as a white-passing, multiracial woman to visualize the themes of race and identity in American society and history in her art. She describes her work with the words “nostalgia”, “Americana”, “stereotypes” and “grandmother’s house”.

“It was kind of just getting started…when I was in grad school, I saw other color design students working on their experiences with black and I thought, ‘Wow, I might have something that wasn’t necessarily addressed,'” Gaignard said.

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A self-proclaimed “chameleon,” Gaignard transforms through the use of props, wigs, and costumes, rendering himself almost unrecognizable to viewers. She poses herself as the subject of her portraits to create performative pieces around the theme of femininity and the notion of passing away.

Her Vanilla Ice photo shows Gaignard leaning on an ice box, dressed in casual clothes, tucking a pack of cigarettes into the spaghetti straps of her tank top and holding a bag of Funyuns; this is just one of the four female figures Gaignard presents in this installation.

Discussing her installation Black, White, and Red All Over, she explained that the inspiration for this piece was the vintage black and white wallpaper that now adorns the walls of her living room.

At first glance, the design doesn’t seem anything out of the ordinary; it simply shows a scene of Americans going about their day. However, a closer look reveals a pattern with enslaved people in the Antebellum South.

When Gaignard discovered the wallpaper, he thought it must have been created a long time ago, but was shocked to learn the paper was made in the 1970s.

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“[It] meant that people still wanted to live with these types of images and celebrate slavery. It looked like a beautiful scene to be a part of,” said Gaignard.

Genevieve Gaignard’s “Black, White, and Red All Over” shows wallpaper from the 1970s. – Contributor / Morgan Murnane

Gaignard’s collage, titled “White Lies,” included images she had collected from newspapers and magazines. The collage shows a white woman in a white dress standing near, but seemingly ignoring, Martin Luther King, Jr.

When asked why she chose Martin Luther King Jr., she explained that people would know who he is.

“He’s a very prominent figure,” Gaignard said. “This woman is blind to it. She doesn’t pay attention to this figure.”

“That way of turning a blind eye to what’s going on around them. There’s this kind of preservation that takes place. We keep this to a high gloss. We keep these white lies to make everything great white,” Gaignard said.

Gaignard’s “White Lies” attempts to question the white lies society tells itself about race. – Contributor / Morgan Murnane

When selecting artists to invite to the gallery, Salvante looks for someone who is able to engage with the students and whose work relates to what the students are actually learning in the classroom.

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“A lot of this show has to do with anthropology, African American studies; about history, about social justice,” Gaignard said.

However, Salvante explained that this season’s theme has more to do with the medium than the subject matter.

“We’re thinking about doing lens-based exhibitions,” Salvante said. “[such as] photography and video.”

The first discipline Salvante saw from Gaignard was her photography. Gaignard has a connection to Rowan Professor Jenny Drumgoole as they both received their Masters of Fine Arts from Yale University.

“I had a conversation with Jenny’s [photography] Class during the pandemic and Jenny seemed inspired by and shared with the work I was doing [Salvante,]’ Gaignard explained.

Gaignard knows her art can influence people.

“It doesn’t have to hit everyone, it just has to hit a few people,” Gaignard said.

She not only wants to make an impression with her art, but also wants to be part of the story.

“I’m also interested in being a part of history. Hopefully when I’m gone, this stuff will still be around to continue to help people push the boundaries of white supremacy and the way the society we live in,” Gaignard said.

Genevieve Gaignard’s Solo Show To Whom It May Concern will be on display at 301 High Street until October 29th and is free to view.

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