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Cultural symbols exhibit takes on stereotypes

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  • Robert Schmidt
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    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 24, 2008
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      9/22/Intermission/Cultural.Symbols.Exhibit.Takes.On.Stereotypes-3444260.sht
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      Cultural symbols exhibit takes on stereotypes

      Amber Thompson
      Issue date: 9/22/08 Section: Intermission

      Swastikas are back on campus, but this time, instead of invoking fear they
      invite questions about how we think of not only our culture, but culture of
      the people around us.

      The new cultural symbols art exhibition in the Atwood gallery was unveiled
      last Monday. Installations by Oscar Arredondo and Andrea Carlson dealing
      with cultural identity and stereotypes will be available for viewing until
      Oct. 21.

      Carlson's exhibit graces the front of the gallery, with eight abstract
      paintings placed around the room.

      Carlson's paintings, while graphically exciting, are hard to understand at
      times. A disclaimer posted around the exhibit in various locations said
      that Carlson's paintings "pick at calcified views of authenticity and
      cultural purity, demonstrating her interests in how objects are imbued with
      history and how they may become surrogates for cultural exchange."

      Some people will get this -- some (myself included) will have to take the
      disclaimer's word for it.

      The most moving of Carlson's paintings is directly visible from the doorway
      of the gallery, titled "Vaster Empire."

      The painting showcases a pair of large skulls adorned with symbols, one
      which says, "Join the Polly Anna club and be glad," the other a
      military-looking symbol. The painting says "We hold a vaster empire than
      has been."

      The rest are somewhat harder to decipher, with seemingly random sprinkles
      of iconic images like an old-style Electrolux vacuum cleaner, and just
      plain random items, like a penis jutting inside the edge of the same
      painting with text explaining that "penises are unusually large and
      colorful."

      Arrendondo's exhibit, titled "Welcome to Cleveland" was far easier to
      understand. The entire exhibit, which sprawled across the rear half of the
      gallery, features different renderings of the iconic Cleveland Indians'
      mascot, Chief Wahoo.

      The renderings explore what other ethnic and religious groups would look
      like as stereotypical mascots.

      The exhibit pokes fun at all cultures, complete with the Gangsta
      representation sporting a grill over his teeth and a gold chain necklace,
      Latinos appearing as a human version of Speedy Gonzalez, and even Africans
      as the indigenous stereotype with a bone through their nose.

      However, the exhibit didn't just poke fun at people of color, but was an
      equal opportunity offender.

      The German rendering is basically a cartoon Hitler with a swastika
      medallion around his neck. The Irish representation looks like a slobbering
      drunk leprechaun. White Folks are presented as hooded Ku Klux Klan members
      with a flaming cross adorning their white hoods, and skinheads have an X
      branded on their forehead and a spiked band around their neck.

      Text that accompanied the exhibit said that the installation aimed to
      offend. It cited the recent controversy in sports teams using Native
      American mascots, and even though Chief Wahoo casts the Native American as
      happy, it still objectifies and dehumanizes Native Americans. It says that
      the motivation behind this stereotyping isn't important - it is still
      stereotyping.

      If viewers are offended by a representation of their own ethic or religious
      group, they may start to understand the ill feelings around the Native
      American sports mascots.

      At 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 7, a panel called "Controversial Symbols - Symbolic
      Controversies" will be presented in the Atwood Theatre in conjunction with
      these art exhibits.

      During the month of October, Kiehle Visual Arts Center will also be housing
      an exhibit reflecting cultural symbols in society, produced by artists
      David Dunlap and Jay Schmidt. They will have an artists' talk session at
      3:30 p.m. Oct. 8 in the Kiehle gallery about the installation.
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