Gallery Seven • Maynard, MA • • Through September 26, 2015

By: Sarah Pollman

Muslim 1

Kevin J. Briggs, Muslim Woman, silver gelatin print.

Gallery Seven’s latest show, Stereotypes, is a collection of black and white photographs by the artist Kevin J. Briggs. The small-scale silver-gelatin prints depict average looking individuals that emerge from velvety black backgrounds, illuminated by the harsh glow of a digital projector that traces their bodies with overlaid text. The form references projects by artists such as Jenny Holzer and Krzysztof Wodiczko, and the words recall the age-old American problem of labeling those who are different from ourselves as Other.

The series began with a self-portrait that is embedded among the other pictures. It shows the artist in front of a dark background as white words, all racial slurs heard in relationship to himself, float in front of him. The experience of being branded by uninformed preconceptions is visceral and the self-reflexivity of this piece allows viewers to place themselves in his position.

In another work, two men, presumably a couple, are marked with language that attempts to describe their relationship in politically correct terms, as well as language that reveals prejudices and
discriminatory assumptions.

Deriving from the artist’s commercially trained background at the New England School of Photography, the text references the glowing neon of advertising signs and the flickering of television ads. In each instance, the language traces both contemporary and historical discriminatory thought patterns, setting up an uncomfortable dichotomy between the anonymity of the portrait sitters, whom look just like anyone you might meet on the street, and the perniciousness of language that most of us do not pause long enough to consider.

As a whole, the show invites viewers to consider their own preconceived ideas and assumptions about the people pictured. Briggs has a clear motive to educate his viewers and challenge learnt assumptions, and the collection of these works makes that palpable. Its conversation runs much deeper than the political events of recent months, however, drawing on the typologies of nineteenth century anthropological surveys and the subsequent investigations by artists such as Carrie Mae Weems and Lorna Simpson of the way we learn to see one another. Stereotypes demands we reconsider what we think we know.

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