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Germantown's 'Racism is a Sickness' project seeks subjects and supporters

Tieshka Smith, right, and 'Racism is a Sickness' kick-off attendees

On August 2, Germantown photographer, blogger and activist Tieshka Smith formally launched a project she calls "the most important work that I have done to date.”

The kick-off discussion for that effort, "Racism is a Sickness," took place at Maplewood Mall’s G-Town Radio space. It drew so many interested locals over the course of an hour that the place was packed.

A combination of portraits and interviews conducted by the artist on how racism has affected her subjects, "Racism is a Sickness" is an extension of work Smith did over the last year through a residency at the Painted Bride Art Center. There, her portrait series titled "Private Pain, Silent Struggle," documented people of color with the objects and activities that help to insulate them against the pain of prejudice in everyday life. Smith wanted her subjects to have a say in how they were portrayed because "people of color are not given the agency to find their own imaging."

The current photo project has similar themes, but the portrait style will be more uniform: They’ll all be taken in the lobby at G-Town Radio in front of an upside-down American flag. That flag represents "a country in distress," she explains -- it’s like "shooting up a flare" for racial injustice in modern America.

Each subject (five of whom had already been photographed as of early August) will wear a medical mask with a word written on it representing something they hope to protect themselves against such as "shame," "fear," "stereotyping" and "suspicion." Ultimately, Smith hopes to include 25 subjects in the project. She aims to raise $5,000 to support the work through an Indiegogo campaign.

Beyond finding and photographing her subjects, the artist’s next step will be broad community engagement, an exhibition of the portraits and lots of associated programming developed out of the themes of the interviews. Smith is on the lookout for a final exhibition space and plenty of "co-investors" -- she is hoping to connect with a wide range of community groups who want to combat the social, economic and sometimes life-threatening dangers of racism.

For more information or to find out how you can participate in this project (open to people of all colors), e-mail [email protected] or follow along on Twitter @RMUS2015.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Tieshka Smith, “Racism is a Sickness” 
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