Back to all news stories

Exhibitions and Events

Color Code exhibition explores complexities of blackness and racial identity

Marianetta Porter at Wolverine Press, Ann Arbor, November 2015. Photo: ©Raymond Silverman

“Color Code: Conundrums and Complexities,” an exhibition that showcases the recent work of mixed-media artist and U-M Stamps School of Art & Design professor Marianetta Porter, is on view March 11–April 29, 2016 at U-M’s GalleryDAAS.

Porter’s work is grounded in the study of African American history, culture and representation—drawing on ethnography, religious traditions, folklore, visual culture, and language to investigate the consequences of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the vernacular art of the black church, the politics of visibility and the poetics of color.

The exhibition speaks to the conundrums and complexities of the color question, exploring the codes (social, racial, legal, etc.) that frame racial identity and define blackness in our everyday lives. It delves below the epidermal layer of the skin to speak about an essence buried deep inside the body, using the language, memories, customs, and beliefs that have shaped African American consciousness and aesthetics to examine notions of authenticity and assimilation, the imprint of cultural legacies, and the manner in which we construct, perform, and transform our identities.

"Presence of Absence I," 2015. Digital photographic print. 39 x 26 inches. Photo: ©Patrick Young

“Presence of Absence I,” 2015. Digital photographic print. 39 x 26 inches. Photo: ©Patrick Young

The exhibition takes its name from a diptych titled “Color Code” (2015), which juxtaposes a square cut from a brown paper bag with the words “color code.” It alludes to the test used during the first half of the 20th century to determine whether a person’s skin was light enough to enter an African American fraternity, social club, or party. Like the exhibition, the work draws attention to loaded codes and social values hidden within African American experience and history.

“Color Code: Conundrums and Complexities” is accompanied by a full-color catalog that presents the work featured in the show, an introduction by curator Franc Nunoo-Quarcoo (U-M Stamps School of Art & Design), a conversation between Marianetta Porter and David Doris (U-M Stamps School of Art & Design, Afroamerican and African Studies, History of Art), and essays by Martha Jones (U-M History, Afroamerican and African Studies, Law) and Arlene Keizer (University of California, Irvine).

Marianetta Porter is a member of the faculty of the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Smithsonian Senior Research Fellowship Award, the Smithsonian Laureate Award, an AT&T Network Grant, and the Atlanta Life National Arts Competition Award. Her work has been exhibited nationwide at venues that include the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, the Spoleto Festival, the Harriet Tubman Museum, and the Hampton University Museum of Art.

GalleryDAAS is located on the ground floor of Haven Hall (Room G648), on the central campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. 505 S. State Street, Ann Arbor. The opening reception is March 11, 2016 from 4 to 6 p.m. Marianetta Porter will give a public lecture on March 23, 2016 at 5pm in 4701 Haven Hall.

The exhibition and the activities of GalleryDAAS, a space for dialog about black art and life, have been made possible through the generous support of the Office of the Dean, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, as well as the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies and the African Studies Center, University of Michigan.

Continue Reading