Radical Acts

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Amanda Williams. Pink Oil Moisturizer, from the Color(ed) Theory Suite. 2014-2016

Inkjet print, 22 × 30" (55.9 × 76.2 cm). Fund for the Twenty-First Century

Artist, Amanda Williams: I'm Amanda Williams. I'm a visual artist from Chicago, trained as an architect.
The houses that make up this series were all slated for demolition. These are structures that can't be saved, that are not going to be rehabbed, that are not even good enough for people to squat in, in a certain sense. I didn't ask anyone's permission to paint the houses. I was terrified by what might happen.

The practice of discriminatory housing lending created this landscape to begin with. That trauma that comes after years and years and years of disinvestment, of being lied to, of not really having control over how your environment gets shaped, or your ability to own your environment. These were fully intact blocks and neighborhoods, and so to know what isn't there, is as important as noting what is there.

This was not a neighborhood beautification project. This wasn't a paint flowers on the windows to put a Band-Aid over this deep incision. When you live in an environment where a bulldozer means something's going away and nothing else is ever coming back It doesn't mean prosperity or future or potential, it means erasure of your history. So what action can be taken to shift how you see your environment and shift how we think about the value of that environment?  

There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about color as both an artistic medium, and then also as race. As an African-American person, color is always in the foreground as a racial signifier.

Most of the colors relate to products that had been marketed towards the African-American community, in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. So each color has some relationship to some memory that I have of that time. The colors are Harold's Chicken Shack, Pink Oil Moisturizer, Ultra Sheen Hair Grease, Loose Squares, also known as Newport 100s, Crown Royal Bag, Currency Exchange, Safe Passage, and Flaming Red Hots.

So when someone says, “You painted that house pink?” I say, “Oh no, that's Pink Oil moisturizer.” And the smile emerges, because there's a shared understanding of what that product means to an entire community both in a very practical sense—it's a hair pomade—and then also just memories of when people used it, usually a grandmother, or family member, getting your hair pressed, or getting ready for Easter Sunday, or a date.

It really tells that entire story through these colors in these isolated structures that say everything from “I'm still here” to “Will you remember me when I'm gone?”