Houston artists use row houses to bring clarity, truth to distortions of critical race theory

"Art in and of itself is powerful,” said participant Adam W. McKinney. “And as artists, we get to trust its power to make the connections it needs to make in the world.”

Several Houston artists are giving a crash course on CRT via a new exhibition called The Curious Case of Critical Race … Theory.

The exhibit is courtesy of Project Row Houses, which features installations of artists’ work — dubbed rounds — in several row homes in the Third Ward curated by veteran Houston arts professional Danielle Burns Wilson. Per the nonprofit organization’s website, PRH’s current installation, Round 53, encourages artists to explore how and why CRT “escaped the academy, and became a cultural chimera and catch-all for personal assumptions and/or systems of belief about race in public meetings, on social media, and among the pundit and political classes.”  

As reported previously by theGrio, CRT is legal conjecture developed by scholars Derrick Bell, his former student Kimberlé Crenshaw, Richard Delgado, Jean Stefancic, Mari Matsuda and others to examine the role of the law in perpetuating racial inequality in a post-civil rights era. Critical race theory in college classrooms examines how white supremacy and racism have shaped public policy and institutions. 

Artists participating in the new Project Row Houses installation include Leah Gipson, David-Jeremiah, Adam W. McKinney, Tammie Rubin, Bradley Ward and the ROUX collective, which consists of Rabea Ballin, Ann Johnson, Delita Martin and Lovie Olivia. The Houston Chronicle says the artist spaces “aim powerfully for the heart as well as the mind, making a compelling case for empathy toward bodies of color and Black lived experience.”

Gipson’s space features a piano typically found in a family home and is flanked by altars full of memorabilia. David-Jeremiah’s colorful installation channels the popular composition The Scream created by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch in 1893. Rubin highlights her Mississippi family roots with ceramics made from “common, cone-shaped objects that read as pointed hoods,” per the report. Ward created a library inside his home space that acknowledges Black cultural icons and institutions.

The members of ROUX used the largest house to celebrate the majesty of Black womanhood via their emotive mix of paintings, printmaking, designs and sculptures. McKinney teamed with collaborators from his organization DNAWORKS for the Shelter in Place installation that uses an actual body to represent McKinney in the early 20th-century as historical figure Fred Rouse. 

Rouse was lynched in Fort Worth in 1921 as he left work. Many of his descendants learned of his tragic fate through McKinney’s exhibit. 

McKinney is Black, Jewish and gay, all of which inform his art, according to the report. 

“There’s a Jewish value called Pikuach nefesh, based on the idea that if you save one soul, it’s as if you save an entire universe. The way I’m thinking about that is, if you remember one soul, it’s as if you remember an entire universe,” McKinney told The Chronicle

“Art in and of itself is powerful,” he added. “And as artists, we get to trust its power to make the connections it needs to make in the world.”

The exhibition “The Curious Case of Critical Race … Theory” is on view through Sunday, June 5. Tickets are available to the public for free. For more information, visit projectrowhouses.org.

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