Buffalo born painter Shanel Kerekes was exposed to a culturally diverse environment early in life, which later instilled a fascination towards individuality, preestablished societal standards, and the ever-changing dynamic between the two. These interests have influenced her desire to create work. As a biracial woman in today's world, Kerekes attempts to build a visual representation of the many obstacles that women and minorities face. These may include objectification, discrimination, sexualization, and exploitation. For her exhibition Brutally Honest, her painting of an open mouth, bound by barbed wire, is reproduced on a grand scale in the windows of the Burchfield Penney Art Center board room. The four panels of the installation, facing north and west, alternate in color creating a rhythmic visual echo of the human voice. In a statement about the piece, she writes:
A significant amount of societal tension has built up in our country within the past year, ultimately leading to the creation of this piece. The year 2020 brought much anguish to my mind regarding the politics of the justice system and how it directly affects the black community. I wanted to make a painting in honor of my grief and frustration whilst witnessing the injustice towards people of African descent. Ethnicity aside, no individual should be victimized or have their life taken based on their biological makeup, accompanied with unnecessary brutality.
I have always been a firm believer in recognizing patterns. Black hate crimes have been reoccurring throughout history. That is why I think the best way to resolve this abuse of power is to vocally exchange perspectives and insight on individual experiences. Many minorities are hesitant to come forward out of fear from their own experiences of discrimination, as many of these instances are traumatic in nature. With time, I hope that they may find the courage to come forward and speak their truth to share with the masses and further the progress we have already seen thus far.
This piece directly focuses on the verbal language that is necessary in aiding the progression of equality and justice towards minorities. Though much progress has been made regarding the injustice of people of color, we have only scratched the surface of additional conversations. We must continue to fight for the equality that all people deserve and never allow ourselves to be silenced. Life is endless color. Colors may vary, but in the end, they are still technically color.
This exhibition is part of the Artists Up Front Project, a series of exhibition opportunities that serves as a platform for the creative producers to make bold statements and speak directly to the community in a way that is not trapped within the walls of the museum. We are turning our building inside out, recognizing that museums exist because of artists.