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Artist Illustrates And Claims The Oppressive Past Of Her Ancestors

Photo courtesy of Anne Mavor

An art installation aimed at disrupting racism with history and self-reflection is coming to the Runyan Gallery in Newport this Friday. ‘I Am My White Ancestors: Claiming The Legacy of Oppression’ by Portland-based artist Anne Mavor features life-sized portraits, narratives and audio stories. 

One of Mavor’s 13 characters is John Salley, a South Carolina slave holder from the 1700s. In an audio diary written by Mavor, Salley says:

Credit Photo courtesy of Anne Mavor
A life-sized portrait of Anne Mavor dressed as her ancestor John Salley.

"I thank God the United States Congress just passed the Fugitive Slave Act. I trust the $500 fine will deter that immoral behavior"

Salley is Mavor's ancestor. The artist said she used these short stories to illustrate links between historic and present day biases.

“I felt like I was researching the source of racism, for one thing, where does racism come from and other oppressions," Mavor said.

Mavor also included portraits of herself wearing costumes she made. Each character represents a person in her family lineage, dating back to the 3rd century BC. This full embodiment, she said, allowed her to view racism through a holistic lens.

"Just the knowledge that ‘oh I’m connected to this person, I could be sharing the same nose, or eyebrows as this character.' I am connected to what happened in the past," Mavor said.

Credit Photo courtesy of Anne Mavor
Anne Mavor's art installation featuring life-sized self portraits of herself wearing costumes she made.

Mavor wants audiences, specifically white audiences, to come away with similar conclusions. She said this project offers them the chance unlearn racism.

“We’ve been raised to never speak about racism or race," Mavor said, "so I’m turning that around ‘let’s talk about it, let’s claim who we are.”

Mavor’s installation will be displayed beginning February 1  at the Newport Visual Arts Center. She’ll also speak at a special reception that starts at 5 p.m. on opening day.

Melorie Begay is a multimedia journalist for KLCC News. She was the Inaugural KLCC Public Radio Foundation Journalism Fellow. She has a bachelors in Multimedia Journalism from the University of New Mexico. She previously interned at KUNM public radio in Albuquerque, NM and served as a fellow for the online news publication New Mexico In Depth.