Chicago-based artist Ayanah Moor’s first text-based paintings started years before our current moment of protest poster aesthetics and neighborhood storefronts announcing their alliances with Black, brown, and LGBTQ+ groups through window displays. For DePaul Art Museum (DPAM), Moor challenges us to question our personal and collective progress, intentions, and methods of change surrounding issues of equity and inclusion. Are our alliances swift and superficial, or deeply rooted and ready for hard-fought change?
The artist’s site-specific installation in DePaul Art Museum’s CTA-facing billboards allows audiences to rethink and unlearn our relationships to the issues of race, politics, and progress through the act of wordplay and the power of individual words in her artwork. She invites each of us to read the work through our heavily loaded personal and collective histories, perspectives, and observations and to question the artist’s own motive and relationship to the concepts of Blackness and blackness regarding race and color theory in social and art historical contexts. What is in a name, a label, or a color? How does the power of words change with our inflection of tone as we perform and pronounce them?
Exploring her experiences in academia—specifically in relationship to diversity initiatives in university settings—Moor wrestles with the problematics for people of color in accepting invitations to participate in environments and systems not historically built for or in consideration of them. She engages with how these settings and their intentions can both help and harm communities of color. At DPAM, Moor’s text-based works are positioned in a transitional location: both physically on and off a university campus, at and outside of a museum, and for audiences literally in-between places on their commute. Posing her tongue-in-cheek phrases in this specific locale, the artist is asking viewers to consider what the process of change really looks like within our institutional systems and how our physical and historical environments influence our reading, our understanding, and our engagement with certain visual cues.
Ayanah Moor lives and works in Chicago. She earned a BFA in Painting and Printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University and an MFA in Printmaking from Tyler School of Art. Moor has participated in numerous exhibitions including Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, DePaul Art Museum, and Museum of Contemporary Photography, (Chicago); The Andy Warhol Museum, (Pittsburgh); ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives—University of Southern California Libraries (Los Angeles); Proyecto ‘ace, (Buenos Aires); Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, (Grand Rapids); daadgalerie, (Berlin); and The Studio Museum in Harlem, (New York) among others. Her work is featured in Astria Suparak and Brett Kashmere’s, Incite: Journal of Experimental Media, Sports Issue (2017), Nicole Fleetwood’s, Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality, and Blackness (2011) and, What is Contemporary Art? (2009) by Terry E. Smith.
This site-specific installation for DePaul Art Museum was organized by DPAM Interim Director Laura-Caroline de Lara.
Image: Things Are Looking Blacker, But Black Is Looking Whiter, 2013