Visiting Artist: Ila Prouty

laSahai "Ila" Prouty '87 is originally from Gloucester, MA and now lives in Bakersville, NC. She is an alumna of Waring and former Chair of the Art department. She received a BA from Brown University and an MFA from the California College of Art in the Bay Area, CA. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor of Art and Associate Dean of Fine and Applied Arts at Appalachian State University, where she teaches Art for Social Change and other courses. Prouty was a Resident Artist at the Penland School of Crafts and has exhibited extensively throughout the United States.

Ila invites parents to participate by dropping by the Atelier on Tuesday 1/24 between 4:45 and 5:15pm or Thursday 1/26 between 3:00 and 3:45pm to learn more about her work with the school and make an identity map for the community Map of Maps.

Artist Statement

Through her work, Prouty considers how we define power and create myths by mapping the shifting architecture of identity.  Her making is driven by ideas from a number of material and conceptual vantage points. She creates sculptures, prints, installations, videos, actions and collaborations. Recent themes in her work have included balance, repetition, power, false promise, frustration, naïveté and futility.

The "Paper Bag Test"

This interactive installation invites the community to define and reclaim skin tones and color as associated with race.
Historically, the paper bag test was used to separate black people into two categories – those lighter than a paper bag, and those darker. Access to parties, churches and social clubs was assigned based on this criterion. I remember thinking, “Which paper bag are we using?” when I first heard about the test. I wanted to belong but I knew that, regardless of which bag was used, there would always be a certain mismatch, and plenty of labels, names, and false categories to go around.
The central work of this site-specific show consists of several paper bags that have been opened flat and coated with colors that reference skin tones. Each bag is stamped with a label at the top.
The labels touch upon a range of experiences, for example: Nude, Bamboo, Brown Sugar, Fair, Redneck, Redskin, Bandaid, Bean, Yellow, White, Ebony, Silk, Spice. They are derived from foundation colors, slurs, foods, jokes, and historical contexts. The public is invited to write reactions, comments and stories on the bags. They are also invited to post photographs under #paperbagtest. The final grouping of colors and labels will be selected and sequenced for the gallery after getting to know the site and doing some research about local race-related language and issues.
This piece attempts to develop a complex dialog about skin tone and stereotypes in contrast with what is often a shallow and reductive conversation in our culture. It also offers the possibility of reclaiming and redefining the language we use to construct the categories of race. My goals with this piece are to engage people in thinking about how we use words to describe, imply and evaluate race, to ask them to reflect on how they see their own skin tone and the skin tones of others, and to present race as a social, as opposed to scientific, construction.