As in many areas, there was a strong anti-immigration sentiment in the South Okanagan in the 1920s, reflected in these ads from the era. Courtesy Penticton Museum.

Penticton Art Gallery explores racism

International call for artists to contribute

When you think of racism, do you think it was conquered in the 1960s civil right movement? Or do you shake your head sadly at the evidence that it is still alive and thriving in our new online world?

The Penticton Art Gallery is opening up the conversation about the resurgence of racism and xenophobia with “eRacism,” an exhibition starting at the gallery in July.

Curator Paul Crawford was inspired, in part, by examples of historical racism in Penticton and the South Okanagan. He displays ads and news stories from the 1920s: “Keep Penticton White; We Want White Fruit Packers; Another Chinaman is given ticket and told to leave Oliver.”

“What is the legacy of that?” Crawford asks. “Statistically, the Okanagan Valley is one of the whitest, least immigrated part of Canada. We’re a lot poorer for it.”

Crawford recalls being in high school and learning about the rise of fascism in the early 20th Century, asking himself how people could be so blind to what was going on.

“I look around now and it’s the same thing. The rhetoric is the same. I am amazed at the apathy in society in general.”

Crawford said it’s incredible how successful the current U.S. administration and our former administration here in Canada have used race as a political tool to not only divide people nation but to unite their parties.

“I don’t think we got here by mistake,” said Crawford. Some, he questioned, might suggest the current atmosphere has given racism a free licence to come out into the open.

“I think if there is going to be had, I think it is going to come from the artists,” said Crawford, noting that a number of musicians are already pushing back. “Cultural change has always been led by the artists throughout history. But I feel we have become far too complacent in our society.”

Like the gallery’s recent show Ipseity, which explored gender identity and sexuality, Crawford hopes the eRacism show gets people talking.

“I hope it maybe mobilizes the arts community. I would like to think that artists feel they have a voice, a vehicle and a tool that they can use to have us look at ourselves, to hold a mirror up to society,” said Crawford. “I hope we can get back to that, we should all have an opportunity everyday to question.”

The Penticton Art Gallery is inviting artists from across the globe to submit artworks in all media for eRacism July 6 and continues through Sept. 16

This exhibition is open to all artists working in any media and submissions will be juried based on the work but more importantly on the artist’s statement which will add further depth to the work and the community conversation. In addition to the physical exhibition, the Penticton Art Gallery create a virtual exhibition through our website that will remain as a permanent reminder of this exhibition.

Please send your submissions and proposals (including a photo or media file of the work, your artist statement and current biography and C.V.) by Friday, June 15 to [email protected]. Selected works are to be shipped to the Penticton Art Gallery by Friday, June 29.


Steve Kidd
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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