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Seeking Parallels in Portraits: Samantha Wall Opens 'indivisible'
In association with Loving Day celebrations, the Stella Jones Gallery (201 St Charles Ave) is exhibiting portraits of multiracial women by Samantha Wall. The work attempts to highlight the ambiguity, difficulty and singularity of being a person of mixed ancestry.
The search for connection seems to be at the center of Wall’s work. It springs from the social isolation that many multiracial women face. Wall’s mother is Korean and her father is African American and Wall’s multi-ethnic experience was not something she could share with either of them.
“For many individuals like myself, it can be a very lonely experience. It keeps us between different social groups… I was always pushed out of groups, I didn’t really belong with the Asian or black kids,” says Wall.
The portraits are done in charcoal and graphite, and focus on the faces of the women. Wall chose these women for their racial ambiguity, which she links to their seeming familiarity, commenting that many viewers often recognize something of themselves in these women.
Wall also highlights the individuality and emotionality of each woman. And by doing so, she forces the viewers to look at the women as more than just props in a discussion of race but to also connect and recognize the women as people with stories and lives of their own.
“All the women I talk to are in that same place, most of the women I work with are racially ambiguous, they are the ones who are always asked ‘What are you? Where are you from? Who are your parents?’ These are really private questions and none of those answers will give you insight to who I am,” says Wall.
At first, Wall used her friends as models, but during a stint working with the Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans, she began partnering with women whom she had never met. During the interviews that she would conduct with each woman, the shared experiences and isolation of multiracial women became more evident.
“Initially, conversations were a bit uncomfortable, but the more we talked and shared, the more we recognized a parallel upbringing, the challenges we faced were so similar. It was comforting knowing we didn’t have to do it alone," she said. “To be a part of something larger is what I’ve always been searching for.”
It seems that Wall’s work serves as a platform for her to connect with other multiracial people. They are able to talk about their shared experiences and feel a little less alienated because of it. They are able to put words to things they have always felt.
“I’m still figuring it out," she says. "This has been such an experience for me.”
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