A cluster of cloaked figures in white hoods huddle together in the night, the landscape of an urban city skyline behind them. They are unknown by their identity yet infamously recognizable — the Ku Klux Klan is jarringly displayed across the canvas of Vincent Valdez’s The City I and The City II.
Although the Klan is often thought of as a symbol of historical racism, Valdez incorporates modern elements such as a Klansman shining the light of a smartphone, Nike shoes and a Chevrolet truck to demonstrate the reality of contemporary racism. The Blanton Museum of Art will display The City I and II until Oct. 28. As a result of current political rhetoric, students need to take the time to see Valdez’s work. His striking paintings allow for deeper conversation concerning the impact of racism on our society today.
Valdez makes use of various symbols to convey his point, but viewers of the painting are able to interpret the work in their own way. Carlotta Stankiewicz, the Blanton director of marketing and communications, urges students to visit the exhibit to spark conversation.
“Art is a great connector that can help to facilitate discussions about topics that may be difficult to address,” Stankiewicz said. “It can help you to experience other worlds, and this exhibit in particular is an interesting way to spark community conversation about the racism that people may still face today.”
Stankiewicz also said that the inclusion of Valdez’s paintings is a part of Blanton’s greater effort to represent artists from different minority groups, such as Latino, African-American and female artists. This way, more students will be able to see themselves represented in an artistic format and be able to relate to the themes depicted in the works displayed. Many students may be able to identify with the ideas of prejudice that are prevalent in Valdez’s work.
Malini Josiam, a mechanical engineering sophomore, participated in a Community Conversation — which is a proctored discussion — and recommends that other students do the same.
“They gave everyone a chance to speak, and I got to learn a lot more about the painting via other people’s opinions,” Josiam said. “I think the Blanton is a great resource for students because it’s so close to campus and it can give you a sort of cultural experience.”
The Blanton also rotates its exhibitions in order to offer new works and perspectives every few months, so students should pay the museum a visit multiple times throughout the year. For now, Valdez’s The City is especially worth the time and energy due to its thought-provoking nature.
“It was really cool because the exhibit made me think about things I hadn’t really thought about before,” Josiam said. “It made me think about my own identity and experience in America in relation to what was being shown in the painting.”
The City exhibit warrants a visit by all students on campus. Students need to take advantage of the free admission to Blanton and be sure to see Valdez’s thought-provoking and periodically relevant work. The themes depicted in the paintings are significant in our current social climate, and it is crucial to use the art as a springboard to converse about the systemic racism that still affects many students today.
Nayak is a communications sciences and disorders freshman from Austin.