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School group visits ACA’s “Stereotypes” show

“[The photos] were all very powerful and eye-opening and they sum up all of the prejudices that people have about certain people,” said an Arlington High School student upon visiting ACA’s recent photography exhibit, “Stereotypes: A Conscious Look at Race, Faith, Gender and Sexual Identity.”

The above student was just one of 14 students from Arlington High School to view this powerful exhibit at the Arlington Center for the Arts. The school trip, which visited ACA’s Gibbs Gallery on Monday, April 11, was led by Melanie Konstandakis, teacher of Race, Society and Identity at Arlington High School. Students were encouraged to view the exhibit and write down how viewing the provocative and challenging images impacted them.

An AHS school group visits ACA’s “Stereotypes” exhibit

The exhibit, presented by Arlington Center for the Arts and the Vision 20/20 Diversity Task Group, consisted of 15 black-and-white portraits of everyday people within and across the categories of race, faith, gender and sexual identity and was a personal project for photographer Kevin J. Briggs.

Briggs, who is black, was inspired to create the collection after his own experiences with racial discrimination and bias. One instance in particular shaped his thinking about the exhibit; just a few years ago, while leaving his former office in Boston’s Financial District one night, he recounts being harassed by building security for appearing “lost.” Briggs, shocked, asserted that he worked in that office – but the not-so-subtle implication of the guard’s words, that he did not belong there, stung. It was further emphasized to Briggs that, despite how he perceived himself, the color of his skin meant that he was perceived, and treated, differently by others.

Images by Kevin J. Briggs

Each of the 15 photographs pictures a person or persons who are in some way marginalized or stereotyped by society at large because of their identity. Seated before a deep black backdrop, Briggs’ subjects gaze directly out at the viewer, while projections of derogatory slurs and stereotypes wrap around their bodies and hover around them, asking us all to consider the power and effect of these words on the daily lives of these individuals, groups, and, ultimately, on all of us as a community and society. Comments by the subjects in question accompany each portrait, adding to the power and complexity of the narrative Briggs creates with this exhibition.

The photo exhibit offered powerfully personal narratives to underscore what students have been learning about and discussing in the classroom – namely, the intersection of identity and society, and how we treat those of differing backgrounds and identities than our own.

Students view the work on display and write down their reactions.

Below are some of the thought-provoking and moving responses offered by students who came to view the exhibit, explaining which photo was the most difficult to view and why:

“The photo with the African American Woman. I am an African American female and the words printed across the image are words I hear all the time.”

“The hardest photo to view is the one of the black man because I have been called some of the things on this photo and it angers me.”

“The photo of the black woman labeled ‘bitch, tramp, stupid’ because I feel associated with black women…”

“The photos about the women because I hear those words frequently and it affects me and saddens me to know I could be stereotyped that way.”

“Stereotypes: A Conscious Look at Race, Faith, Gender and Sexual Identity” was on display in the Gibbs Gallery at the Arlington Center for the Arts from March 7 – April 15.

The exhibit was co-sponsored by: Arlington Board of Selectmen, Arlington Commission on Disability, Arlington Council on Aging, Arlington Human Rights Commission , Arlington International Film Festival, Arlington Police Department, Arlington Public Schools, Arlington Youth Counseling Center, Arlington Youth Health & Safety Coalition, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, The First Church in Belmont Unitarian Universalist Social Action Committee, First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington, Highrock Covenant Church, Housing Corporation of Arlington, ManKind Project of New England, Mystic LGBTQ+ Youth Support Network, Martin Luther King, Jr., Birthday Observance Committee of Arlington, St. Agnes Parish, Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is in Arlington

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