‘Stories on My Back’ explores diversity
America is a cultural melting pot, but the great diversity that makes this country what it is and brings people together is sometimes taken for granted. This is the primary concern that Georgia College’s visiting artist Richard Lou tackles. His focus is on the expression of cultural identity and the process of healing the wounds of transgression between races.
It was a full house at Blackbridge Hall on Thursday, Aug. 23 for Lou’s anticipated talk about his multimedia installation. In his installation, “Stories on My Back,” he uses stories as a way to connect with others, along with referencing both his Chinese and Hispanic background. Lou articulates to others his relationship with the power contained in stories, sharing snippets of tales passed down from his own family.
During the reception students and faculty milled about, taking in the work of art before them. The elaborate structure of Lou’s work gave the feeling of an Agrarian sanctuary, incorporating tales of strength and wisdom. Indeed, there seemed to be a soft glow emanating from within the columns that drew the attention of most of the students.
“I liked the material he used for the columns,” said senior studio art major Erica Lummus. “The overall color choice fit well with his theme.”
Lou addressed his reasoning for using such an elaborate display of intertwined cornhusks and soft light.
“We are so used to seeing reflected light around us,” Lou said. “I enjoy the idea of emanating light; it is a structural twist that I enjoy. One has to think ‘how do you translate material to something more spiritual?’”
Art history professor Tina Yarborough mentioned that the cornhusk-covered columns served as a symbol both for the Chinese dragon as well as the Serpent Quetzalcoatl. These symbols connect his father’s Chinese heritage with his mother’s Mexican symbology.
Lou has been dreaming about this work for three to four years, dealing with smaller scales previously.
“This installation is the closest yet I have gotten to my dream,” Lou said.
When entering the installation area, spectators have to encircle and interlace themselves between the columns to read the stories displayed above, written over foreshortened maps and lands. With imagery of food such as rice, beans and the previously mentioned cornhusks incorporated into the structure, viewers can feel the significance and warmth of the family meal, which appears in all cultures and religions as a staple of togetherness.
“I went in before the talk wondering what certain things meant,” said Brianna Williams, sophomore pre-nursing major. “With art I see it and feel what it means, but I can’t exactly articulate what it is. After Lou’s talk it clicked and meant something more [to me].”
Lou’s previous work has ranged from photography to performance art, using any and every medium possible.
With his “Inner City Portraits,” completed when Lou was a graduate student, he explores the stereotypes of Chicano culture with photography. He juxtaposes his written biographies of recurring stereotypical characters and then uses himself as a medium to dress up like the characters, much like how Cindy Sherman has famously tackled female stereotypes with her photography.
In the late 80s and early 90s, Lou worked with groups such as the Border Art Workshop using sledgehammers to secure massive symbolic staples on the U.S. and Mexico border as a way of expressing the desire to heal the separation between the two nations.
Lou is also not unknown to this campus as he was once part of the GC family, previously serving as chair of the Department of Art.
“Stories on my Back” is open for individual viewing in Blackbridge Hall until Sept. 7.