Conceptions of White

September 9, 2023 - February 4, 2024

Deanna Bowen, White Man’s Burden, 2022 (installation at MacKenzie Art Gallery, 2022), giclée prints on paper and selected works from the MacKenzie Art Gallery permanent collection, Collection of the MacKenzie Art Gallery, Gift of the Artist, Photo: Carey Shaw

Conceptions of White is an exhibition offering context and nuanced perspectives that help viewers grapple with contemporary configurations of White identity. The exhibition examines the origins, travel and present reality of “Whiteness” as a concept and a racial invention that classifies degrees of civility/humanity.

Select historical objects and artworks illustrate White origin myths within their historical context, revealing Whiteness as a North American, settler-colonial invention of the seventeenth century, created alongside “Blackness” and “Aboriginality.”

The contemporary artists in this exhibition complicate this historical foundation by examining how these acts of racialization are felt today through concepts of White guilt, anxiety, supremacy, benevolence, fragility and power. These artists encourage us to confront the ideology of cultural erasure embedded in the social construction of Whiteness, the ramifications of its continually expanding borders, and the society fostered by this relatively young theory of racial categorization.

Together, the diverse narratives, images and concepts presented in Conceptions of White examine the existential, experiential and ethical dimensions of engaging in classifications of Whiteness, while also drawing on the conceptual connections between colonial Whiteness and the aesthetic, social and philosophical meaning we ascribe to the colour white. The exhibition is framed through a biracial lens with both curators seeking a clearer understanding of their own relationship to Whiteness.

Conceptions of White includes works by Jeremy Bailey, Deanna Bowen, Jennifer Chan, Nicholas Galanin, Ken Gonzales-Day, Arthur Jafa, Ryan Kuo, Michèle Lalonde, Barbara Meneley, Robert Morris, Nell Painter, Howardena Pindell, Hiram Powers, Fred Wilson and Artist Once Known (After Leochares).


Video courtesy of the MacKenzie Art Gallery

Organized and circulated by the MacKenzie Art Gallery in partnership with Art Museum at the University of Toronto and curated by John G. Hampton and Lillian O’Brien Davis. Circulated with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

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