“Class of 2007”

I visited an exhibit featuring a piece created by Nina Chanel Abney. Known for exploring politics, gender, and race relations in her work, Abney’s work stands to communicate what American society refuses to acknowledge. This daring attitude is seen in “Class of 2007” as she addresses race. Abney analyzes the great effects race has upon incarceration rates, college admissions, and society in general.

“Class of 2007” is an eye-catching piece saturated with components that all point to the injustices caused by one’s race. This artwork is based off a photograph of Abney and her other classmates who graduated from the Parsons School of Design. In the artistic piece, Abney paints a group of African-American inmates who have their hands in unique positions. Also, the piece depicts a blonde, blue-eyed prison guard to the left.

I adore this piece for its bright colors and thought-provoking metaphors. For instance, the painting depicts only African-American inmates of both genders. This orchestrated move speaks to the egregiously disproportionate amount of blacks in America’s justice system. Blacks are five times more likely to be incarcerated than white Americans.

The piece also points to the rampant police brutality in America. As the only black person in her class, Abney paints herself as a Caucasian warden equipped with a gun. This imagery makes me think of all the cases of white officers killing African-American with guns. The deaths of Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and countless others were caused by white officers who pulled the trigger on the same weapon held by this blonde warden.

One could also argue that this piece speaks to the scarce amount of African-American applicants accepted into universities. As the painting is based off a photograph and the races are reversed, it is clear that Abney was the only black person in her class. Also, Abney declares, “…working in admissions, I saw that there weren’t a lot of black students accepted into Parsons.” The portrait illustrates that society still disenfranchises blacks. Similarly, Claire Gibbs’ blog post highlights a point that most viewers may miss. My classmate says, “Abney {notices} the rarity of black students at Parsons, while also becoming increasingly aware and invested in the disproportionate amount of black males in prison.” Through Gibbs’ words, it is clear that race has a relationship with both schooling and the criminal justice system. Abney alludes to how this relationship can land blacks in jail or keep them out of universities.

In addition, Abney causes paint to drip from all the characters’ faces to signal that these inmates are her former classmates masked by brown paint. Those who inspired this painting realized this and Abney received mixed reactions from them. The uncomfortable classmates asked Abney, “Are you mad at me?” I wonder what these classmates meant by this question. Are they more upset with their portrayal as an inmate or as a black person? Abney created this piece to create uneasiness amongst her classmates and viewers. This feeling of discomfort is important as it forces people to reflect. We should not exist comfortably when jails, universities, and society disadvantage a people because of the color of their skin.


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