Past Exhibition

Quiet as It's Kept: Passing Subjects, Contested Identities

When: February 28 - April 7, 2019

About the Show


The phrase “passing for white” first appears in advertisements for the return of runaway slaves. Abolitionist fiction later adopts the phenomenon of racial passing as a major literary theme. The term continued to enjoy currency in literature in the postbellum era and during the Harlem Renaissance. Today, “passing” has various manifestations and applications. Not limited to race, the term may indicate subversions of gender, sexuality, religion, ability and class, among other identity coordinates. At Vassar College, interest in this topic has reemerged since the publication of Karin Tanabe’s novel The Gilded Years (2016), about Anita Hemmings’ experience as the first black woman known to attend the College. Hemmings’ story is currently being adapted into a film, A White Lie, starring Zendaya and produced by Reese Witherspoon and Zendaya.

Quiet as It’s Kept presents works of film, photography, and paintings by seven contemporary artists alongside historical examples of art’s engagement with this complex topic, providing an opportunity to rethink identity categories that have long been naturalized or taken for granted. Artists Adrian Piper, Howardena Pindell, Lorraine O'Grady, Nikki S. Lee, Genevieve Gaignard, and Aaron Turner address notions of ethnic and racial passing while other artists in the exhibition such as Lezley Saar and Martine Gutierrez explore the idea that gender fluidity can be seen as a form of gender passing. Photo-based works from the nineteenth century and the 1930s are included to show the history of interest in this issue.

The exhibition is organized in conjunction with a conference of the same name that will take place April 5–7 in various locations on campus. The conference is organized by Mia Mask, Professor of Film, and Hiram Perez, Associate Professor of English.

The exhibition, organized by Mary-Kay Lombino, takes place in the Focus Gallery on the first floor and in the Hoene Hoy Photography Gallery on the second floor.

Artists: Genevieve Gaignard, Martine Gutierrez, Nikki S. Lee, Lorraine O’Grady, Howardena Pindell, Adrian Piper, Lezley Saar, Aaron Turner, and Carl Van Vechten.

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Print Room - Students & Public

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Fri 2pm-4pm

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Poughkeepsie, NY 12604
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