Countering Colorism: Studio 345 Students Examine Social Issues Through Art

Categories: Blog
Why This Matters: As part of a partnership between ASC and Levine Museum of the New South, high school students in ASC’s out-of-school program Studio 345 explored colorism – discrimination based on skin tone – through group discussion, mixed media arts and graphic design. The student-created exhibit “Colorism Affecting Our Future” is currently on display at Levine Museum.

By Lillian Parker
Communications Manager

The second-floor atrium at Levine Museum of the New South displays a series of student-made collages all bound by a common theme – colorism. Born out of a three-year partnership between Levine Museum and ASC’s out-of-school program for high school students, called Studio 345, the “Colorism Affecting Our Future” exhibit is the product of a trimester-long exploration of racial identities and skin-tone discrimination.

From left to right: D’Andre Thompson, East Mecklenburg High School Class of 2019; Niya Friday, West Charlotte High School Class of 2019; Shazaria Hoover, West Charlotte High School Class of 2019; Savaan Wallace, South Mecklenburg High School Class of 2019

Colorism is defined as a prejudice or discrimination based on skin tone, typically by members of the same ethnic or racial group.

“I had never experienced the term, but I had experienced the meaning of it,” said Savaan Wallace, a senior at South Mecklenburg High School and Studio 345 student. “I hadn’t realized other people had experience with it as well.”

D’Andre Thompson, a senior at East Mecklenburg High School and fellow Studio 345 student, echoes Savaan’s sentiments. “We’ve done projects about equal rights and segregation [at Studio], but I hadn’t realized how many people had been impacted by colorism and from such a young age,” he said.

In October 2015, the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience (“the Coalition”) convened organizations from across the nation to launch its three-year initiative From Brown vs. Board to Ferguson: Fostering Dialogue on Education, Incarceration, and Civil Rights. In response, Levine Museum and ASC partnered to create opportunities to encourage youth-based dialogue around race, education equity and incarceration in the context of civil rights history.

“Young people may not always have a seat at the table,” said Eric Scott, Interpretive Developer at Levine Museum of the South. “This exhibit provides an opportunity for people who are removed from youth perspectives to see firsthand what’s impacting them.”

Student work on display at Levine Museum of the New South.

In the summer of 2018, Emily Nuñez, a student apprentice at Studio 345, worked with the students to help them better understand colorism’s complexity and enduring effects. Emily led Mixed Media and Graphic Design/Digital Art classes in group dialogues around how colorism affects their lives and informs their visions for the future. “Colorism Affecting Our Future” is a result of these conversations and reflections.

“Art lets you see things from a different point of view,” Savaan said. “It makes you more willing to see different perspectives. I believe the arts are the one thing are in our society that can speak no matter what limits are set on us.”

“Colorism Affecting Our Future” is on display now at Levine Museum of the New South, located at 200 E. 7th Street. Visitors can view the exhibit Monday – Friday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Sunday from noon – 5 p.m.

“It feels great to have my work in a museum,” D’Andre said. “This is the first step to being an artist.”