SAGINAW, Mich. — At the beginning of my guided tour through the Blactiquing Space, collector and curator Kevin Jones asked me a provocative, challenging question: Can something be racist and also be beautiful? It was just the first of many moments that evoked conflicting thoughts and emotions during my experience of the installation of his decades of collecting racist and racialized objects (mostly) from secondhand stores. Perhaps one of the reasons it’s so difficult to have an honest conversation about race relations in the United States is that our collective attention span has become so compressed, we can hardly begin to pick apart a subject so incredibly fraught with nuance. But in using racialized objects as material evidence of the African-American experience in US history — and through his adamant and authentic attachment to them — Jones has skillfully prepared an experience through which no one can pass untouched.
The exhibition opens with “Grandma’s Room,” a bedroom-like installation that is tribute and shrine to the women in Jones’ life — including a bed covered in quilts made by his great-grandmother; walls covered in family photos; and a book of personal histories chronicling members the family since his great-grandfather’s birth in 1852; and post-emancipation move to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. This area serves as a kind of threshold between original works presented in the foyer, including a selection of drawings by Jones’ uncle, Melvin Hardy, who spent a lot of time in the country’s carceral system, and the “Black Christmas Tree” — an all-black synthetic tree decorated with packages of Skittles, water pistols, figures rendered in rope by artist Nyesha Clark Young, and ringed with a paper wreath bearing the names of 229 Black people killed by police between May of 2020 and May of 2021.
“I wanted to pay tribute to and recognize those lives,” said Jones. “Because I want Blactiquing Space to be an acknowledgment of Black lives.”
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