Voice + Space + Place: Black Cultural Expression

Kelly Walters
Rhode Island School of Design
MFA Candidate in Graphic Design

I am a multimedia artist, a critical thinker, and a choreographer who works to understand the construction of black cultural expression in mainstream media. My aim as an artist, is to identify patterns within language, both visual and articulated, as a source from which I can re-frame how American audiences interact and consume black culture today. My work as a critical thinker, heavily relies upon close observation of historical context in racial tension and socio-political frameworks that impact the identity of the black body. As a choreographer, I am instrumental in creating spaces for dialogue, where collaborators can connect and share experiences that counter widely held racial stereotypes. In performing each of these roles, I become a catalyst in any given environmental space. At times these roles blur, and I transition into being an instigator, a narrator, and a facilitator all working simultaneously to create new meaning and context. By renegotiating black cultural symbols, I am able to pose counter-narratives that overturn the dominant perspective. These alternative outlooks allow me assess whether the mediated black images that I am exposed to, align with how I view myself or how society views me. I continually look for validation in these representations, but am often left with mixed emotions. While there are times that my lived experiences parallel that of characters on television sitcoms, I am concurrently faced with black female portrayals on reality television that leave me disconnected and alienated. My beauty standards are called into question as well as my personal attitude and behavior. How should I conduct myself? How should I be speaking right now? What social circles should I exist in? Who am I supposed to be? These questions are rooted in my artistic practice and guide my deeper explorations of how black identity is formed and the complex ways in which it manifests itself.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 1.5: Rhode Island School of Design on Saturday, March 7, 2015.