When you see the artwork to the right, titled “Flint,” what are your first thoughts? Maybe something like, It’s powerful, touching, and says a lot about the issues in Flint without using any words at all.
Now, what if we told you the piece was created by a 57-year-old white woman? Would it discredit the work in any way? Would it take away from the impact of the piece? Would your thoughts change? Should they?
The artist, Ti-Rock Moore, who has been creating pieces that tackle race for several years now, is accustomed to the shift in viewers' perspectives. Last year, Moore received heat after exhibiting a life-size mannequin of Michael Brown’s dead body surrounded by police tape. Race can be a touchy topic for any artist to explore, and it becomes extra dicey when someone from an inherently privileged perspective starts to weigh in.
But it’s clear Moore is very much aware of her own privilege. “I am resolved as an artist-activist to challenge the systems built on the foundation of white privilege, white power, and white supremacy,” Moore tells us, stating that her intended audience is primarily white Americans. “By exhibiting symbolically overt events, which are manifestations of these systems, and pointing out the brutalities that these systems support, I hope to provide a reflection of the perpetrators to the perpetrators.”
It’s also clear her work resonates with audiences of varying backgrounds. A video of her “Flint” piece, which debuted at Art Basel, has received more than 24,000 retweets on Twitter and a video posted on Facebook just hit one million views. Of course, that Facebook video also features a range of conflicted opinions in the comments, but that’s the intent of good art—to create a dialogue and discussion, and also to make you think and, perhaps, feel a little uncomfortable in the process.
Ahead, we chat with Moore about how her “Flint” piece came into being, her role as an artist and activist, and how to be a good white ally. Scroll through to read what she had to say and to check out some of her other pieces along the way.
Photo: Courtesy of JONATHAN FERRARA GALLERY, New Orleans.
Talk me through your process for the “Flint” piece. When did you come up with the concept and how did you decide this was the most powerful way to get your message across?
"Flint" took me approximately one year and a half to conceptualize. An important part of my process is my four to six hours of studying per day. I've had to study daily since Hurricane Katrina, which is when I realized I hadn't fully grasped the extent to which racism really dominated the vitality of people of color. It wasn't until I witnessed that racial crime that I was shocked into reality and realized I had been blinded by my own entitlement for my whole life, despite my declaration that I was liberal. The violence and neglect that the black community experienced post-Katrina was horrific; this is what made me such a passionate activist. Things I had been blind to in my own world came up and slapped me in the face. So, for 11 and a half years, I have studied the last 400 years of American history, current events, politics, white privilege, white power, and white supremacy.
Much of my inspiration comes from my studies. I make lengthy lists of ideas while studying and refine those lists constantly. I knew I had to speak out about Flint, Michigan, and the mismanagement of the water crisis. Daily, I contemplated and studied Flint, knowing I would use water as a significant force in the piece. [After] a year and a half of thinking, one morning I woke up, and I had it! A water fountain painted snow white, signifying white privilege, white power, and white supremacy with a "colored" sign hanging above it and rusty water flowing continuously from it, signaling the ongoing situation in the majority black town, as well as the extreme limitations placed on communities of color due to flawed infrastructures that privilege the needs of affluent and often predominantly white communities. I make all of my artwork for myself first and have no thoughts about where or when it's going. I only fabricate pieces I've conceptualized that I would like to keep. And then, after the work is fabricated completely, it sits in my studio with me for weeks being scrutinized in every way, before it is professionally photographed and sent to Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, the gallery that represents me in New Orleans. When I had "Flint" photographed, I knew it was the most powerful way for me to get my message about Flint across, because it just plain spells it out, doesn't it?