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  • I really love color.

  • I notice it everywhere and in everything.

  • My family makes fun of me

  • because I like to use colors with elusive-sounding names,

  • like celadon ...

  • (Laughter)

  • ecru ...

  • carmine.

  • Now, if you haven't noticed, I am black, thank you --

  • (Laughter)

  • and when you grow up in a segregated city as I have,

  • like Chicago,

  • you're conditioned to believe that color and race can never be separate.

  • There's hardly a day that goes by

  • that somebody is not reminding you of your color.

  • Racism is my city's vivid hue.

  • Now, we can all agree that race is a socially constructed phenomenon,

  • but it's often hard to see it in our everyday existence.

  • Its pervasiveness is everywhere.

  • The neighborhoods I grew up in

  • were filled with a kind of culturally coded beauty.

  • Major commercial corridors were lined with brightly painted storefronts

  • that competed for black consumer dollars.

  • The visual mash-ups of corner stores and beauty supply houses,

  • currency exchanges,

  • are where I actually, inadvertently learned the foundational principles

  • of something I would later come to know is called color theory.

  • I can remember being pretty intimidated by this term in college --

  • color theory.

  • All these stuffy old white guys with their treatises

  • and obscure terminologies.

  • I'd mastered each one of their color palettes and associated principles.

  • Color theory essentially boils down to the art and science

  • of using color to form compositions and spaces.

  • It's not so complicated.

  • This was my bible in college.

  • Josef Albers posited a theory about the color red,

  • and it always has stuck with me.

  • He argues that the iconic color of a cola can is red,

  • and that in fact all of us can agree that it's red

  • but the kinds of reds that we imagine

  • are as varied as the number of people in this room.

  • So imagine that.

  • This color that we've all been taught since kindergarten is primary --

  • red, yellow, blue --

  • in fact is not primary,

  • is not irreducible,

  • is not objective but quite subjective.

  • What?

  • (Laughter)

  • Albers called this "relational."

  • Relational.

  • And so it was the first time

  • that I was able to see my own neighborhood as a relational context.

  • Each color is affected by its neighbor.

  • Each other is affected by its neighbor.

  • In the 1930s,

  • the United States government created

  • the Federal Housing Administration,

  • which in turn created a series of maps

  • which were using a color-coding system to determine which neighborhoods

  • should and should not receive federal housing loans.

  • Their residential security map was its own kind of color palette,

  • and in fact was more influential than all of those color palettes

  • that I had been studying in college combined.

  • Banks would not lend to people who lived in neighborhoods like mine.

  • That's me in D86.

  • Their cartographers were literally coloring in these maps

  • and labeling that color "hazardous."

  • Red was the new black,

  • and black neighborhoods were colored.

  • The problem persists today,

  • and we've seen it most recently in the foreclosure crisis.

  • In Chicago, this is best symbolized by these Xs

  • that are emblazoned on the fronts of vacated houses

  • on the South and West Side.

  • The reality is that someone else's color palettes were determining

  • my physical and artistic existence.

  • Ridiculous.

  • I decided that I'd create my own color palette

  • and speak to the people who live where I do

  • and alter the way that color had been defined for us.

  • It was a palette that I didn't have to search far for

  • and look for in a treatise,

  • because I already knew it.

  • What kind of painter emerges from this reality?

  • What color is urban?

  • What color is ghetto?

  • What color is privilege?

  • What color is gang-related?

  • What color is gentrification?

  • What color is Freddie Gray?

  • What color is Mike Brown?

  • Finally, I'd found a way

  • to connect my racialized understanding of color

  • with my theoretical understanding of color.

  • And I gave birth to my third baby:

  • "Color(ed) Theory."

  • (Laughter)

  • "Color(ed) Theory" was a two-year artistic project

  • in which I applied my own color palette to my own neighborhoods

  • in my own way.

  • Now, if I walked down 79th Street right now

  • and I asked 50 people for the name of the slightly greener shade of cyan,

  • they would look at me sideways.

  • (Laughter)

  • But if I say, "What color is Ultra Sheen?" --

  • oh, a smile emerges,

  • stories about their grandmother's bathroom ensue.

  • I mean, who needs turquoise when you have Ultra Sheen?

  • Who needs teal when you have Ultra Sheen?

  • Who needs ultramarine when you have ...

  • (Audience) Ultra Sheen.

  • (Laughter)

  • This is exactly how I derived my palette.

  • I would ask friends and family

  • and people with backgrounds that were similar to mine

  • for those stories and memories.

  • The stories weren't always happy

  • but the colors always resonated more than the product itself.

  • I took those theories to the street.

  • "Ultra Sheen."

  • "Pink Oil Moisturizer."

  • If you're from Chicago, "Harold's Chicken Shack."

  • (Laughter)

  • "Currency Exchange + Safe Passage."

  • "Flamin' Red Hots."

  • "Loose Squares" ...

  • and "Crown Royal Bag."

  • I painted soon-to-be-demolished homes

  • in a much-maligned area called Englewood.

  • We'd gather up as much paint as I could fit in my trunk,

  • I'd call my most trusted art homies,

  • my amazing husband always by my side,

  • and we'd paint every inch of the exteriors in monochromatic fashion.

  • I wanted to understand scale in a way that I hadn't before.

  • I wanted to apply the colors to the biggest canvas I could imagine ...

  • houses.

  • So I'd obsessively drive up and down familiar streets that I'd grown up on,

  • I'd cross-reference these houses with the city's data portal

  • to make sure that they'd been tagged for demolition --

  • unsalvageable, left for dead.

  • I really wanted to understand what it meant to just let color rule,

  • to trust my instincts,

  • to stop asking for permission.

  • No meetings with city officials,

  • no community buy-in,

  • just let color rule

  • in my desire to paint different pictures about the South Side.

  • These houses sit in stark contrast to their fully lined counterparts.

  • We'd paint to make them stand out like Monopoly pieces

  • in these environments.

  • And we'd go on these early Sunday mornings

  • and keep going until we ran out of that paint or until someone complained.

  • "Hey, did you paint that?"

  • a driver asked as I was taking this image one day.

  • Me, nervously:

  • "Yes?"

  • His face changed.

  • "Aw, I thought Prince was coming."

  • (Laughter)

  • He had grown up on this block,

  • and so you could imagine when he drove past

  • and saw one of its last remaining houses mysteriously change colors overnight,

  • it was clearly not a Crown Royal bag involved,

  • it was a secret beacon from Prince.

  • (Laughter)

  • And though that block was almost all but erased,

  • it was the idea that Prince could pop up in unexpected places

  • and give free concerts in areas that the music industry and society

  • had deemed were not valuable anymore.

  • For him,

  • the idea that just the image of this house

  • was enough to bring Prince there

  • meant that it was possible.

  • In that moment,

  • that little patch of Eggleston had become synonymous with royalty.

  • And for however briefly,

  • Eric Bennett's neighborhood had regained its value.

  • So we traded stories despite being strangers

  • about which high school we'd gone to

  • and where we'd grown up,

  • and Mrs. So-and-so's candy store --

  • of being kids on the South Side.

  • And once I revealed

  • that in fact this project had absolutely nothing to do with Prince,

  • Eric nodded in seeming agreement,

  • and as we parted ways and he drove off,

  • he said, "But he could still come!"

  • (Laughter)

  • He had assumed full ownership of this project

  • and was not willing to relinquish it,

  • even to me, its author.

  • That, for me, was success.

  • I wish I could tell you that this project transformed the neighborhood

  • and all the indices that we like to rely on:

  • increased jobs, reduced crime, no alcoholism --

  • but in fact it's more gray than that.

  • "Color(ed) Theory" catalyzed new conversations

  • about the value of blackness.

  • "Color(ed) Theory" made unmistakably visible the uncomfortable questions

  • that institutions and governments have to ask themselves

  • about why they do what they do.

  • They ask equally difficult questions of myself and my neighborhood counterparts

  • about our value systems

  • and what our path to collective agency needs to be.

  • Color gave me freedom in a way that didn't wait for permission

  • or affirmation or inclusion.

  • Color was something that I could rule now.

  • One of the neighborhood members and paint crew members said it best

  • when he said, "This didn't change the neighborhood,

  • it changed people's perceptions about what's possible for their neighborhood,"

  • in big and small ways.

  • Passersby would ask me, "Why are you painting that house

  • when you know the city's just going to come and tear it down?"

  • At the time, I had no idea,

  • I just knew that I had to do something.

  • I would give anything to better understand color as both a medium

  • and as an inescapable way that I am identified in society.

  • If I have any hope of making the world better,

  • I have to love and leverage both of these ways that I'm understood,

  • and therein lies the value and the hue.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause and cheers)

I really love color.

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【TED】Amanda Williams: Why I turned Chicago's abandoned homes into art (Why I turned Chicago's abandoned homes into art | Amanda Williams)

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    林宜悉 posted on 2019/03/20
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