Shary Boyle, Outside the Palace of Me – Virtual Spotlight Tour: Whiteness

  • (this was an access copy for a conversation about this work, Thursday, May 12, 1 – 2pm EST)
  • On the stage of this show, but also in our lives, we enact different roles; our expressive intent does not control the interpretive uptake we might receive. Thus talking about something like whiteness invites us to dwell with the complexity of social relations that are entirely made up but have real material effects. We make and remake our self and the world always in relation with others; Shary Boyle’s work here stages some relations with which we can identify or disidentify – figures, images, and also the space of the stage, other people who might move through it with us, in complex configurations of gaze and body. We experience whiteness this way, as a whole world we move through with others, a co-production in which we are differentially situated and for whom the meaning we make shifts depending on how others perceive and position us.  

I want to start by giving a few orienting guiderails for thinking about whiteness, especially in the Canadian context. Whiteness is a social relationship. It is made up, but it really exists and has effects. While there is no biological or physical marker that identifies someone as white, there are many social and political markers that do this.

  • Michael Omi and Howard Winant write, “there is a continuous temptation to think of race as an essence, as something fixed, concrete, and objective. And there is also an opposite temptation: to imagine race as a mere illusion, a purely ideological construct which some ideal non-racist social order would eliminate” (Omi & Winant, 1994, p. 54). They name the process through which race exists “racial formation.” This is the “sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed” (Omi & Winant 55).
    • So here, we can start by recognizing that whiteness as a social relationship of oppression and benefit has not always existed, that “white” is not a biological category, and we can ask what it will take to destroy the work it currently does – to make whiteness as a relation of oppression no longer exist. And we can reflect on how looking at art can help in that creative destruction.

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