Mixed Feelings=Diversity at the VAC

On April 27th, the MFA Graduate exhibition, Mixed Feelings opened at the Visual Arts Center (VAC) of  the University of Texas at Austin. Mixed Feelings  has been said to be the best senior exhibition within the remodeled VAC space. Interestingly enough, I saw Mixed Feelings as one of the most diverse exhibitions I’ve seen in Austin in a long time. With museum exhibitions and spaces such as Arthouse/AMOA taken out of the context an comparing spaces such as Gray Duck, Gallery Black Lagoon and D. Berman, the VAC has been the only space to show photography, sculpture, black, transgendered, lesbian, gay, white, Mexican artists at one time. Some of you may be thinking “Well, is an MFA exiting exhibition so you expect diversity” but that type of thinking is a lovely assumption. The fact of the matter is that within Texas the number of Blacks that have received an MFA from a Texas college or university is 5. Yep 5! F-I-V-E.  Is it possible that out of over 100 years of colleges and universities in Texas, only 5 black people applied and was accepted? Sure, but highly unlikely. If you don’t believe me, I have a list (and the list is in order) t:

  1. Michael Ray Charles (University of Houston 1993)
  2. Zoe Charlton (University of Texas 1999)
  3. Robert Pruitt ( University of Texas 2003)
  4. Christina Coleman (University of Texas 2012)
  5. Zoetina Veal (Texas Christian University 2012)

It is interesting how one can look at these five names and imagine the discrimination that they have faced or did not necessarily face while their names were being selected from the thousands of applications. It came to light this year that black students (specifically in the arts) are not always chosen based on their art work. Many times they are chosen based on their skin color. And I am left to wonder is that a blessing or a curse? Are they tokens for universities to then say “We’re diverse in the arts department?”

But I digress… The show at VAC is one of the few art spaces in Austin that has had a group exhibition with diversity along the lines of gender, race, class and concepts. For instance, graduating artist Christina Coleman’s work explores the various aspects of black hair politics that have shaped her identity as a Black, middle class female. Through the use of generic plastic combs, bobby pins, colorful hair balls, synthetic and human hair, Coleman creates artwork combines black hair politics with the idea of “the natural”. She says, “After reading Kobena Mercer’s essay Black Hair/Style Politics in Welcome to the Jungle I thought a lot about the idea of the natural hair styles and I began to see it in nature such rivers, lakes, trees, clouds, mountains and so on. I realized that nature is an environment in which I am physically present and one that I idealize at the same time.”  We all idealize nature and we all would like to believe that we live in a society where the word diversity doesn’t have to exist! Wouldn’t that be lovely… It would be fantastic if I could go to the Blanton and count on my fingers and toes, female, Black, Asian artists but I can only count 8… But again, I digress.  Check out Mixed Feelings at the VAC or check out the particpating artists Miguel A. Aragon, Erica Botkin, Ben Brandt, Christina Coleman, Kacy Maddux, Ezra Masch, Mi-Hee Nahm, Marcus Payzant, Daniel Rudin and Yun K. Shin.

Check out more of Christina’s work below:

detail of Hair Wall (2011)




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