I never thought about orange.
When I learned the orange tip was removed from the toy gun that Tamir Rice was playing with when he was killed, I thought of orange as a bright color, a wise choice for marking a realistic looking toy gun as just that, a toy.
When I visited the exhibit, “A Color Removed,” at Cleveland’s SPACES gallery, I realized it wasn’t that I’d never thought about orange; it was I’d never had to think about orange.
I’m sure I knew this when I was studying for my driver’s test, but just as green signs give us directions and blue signs tell us about rest stops, orange signs mark our safety. I never thought about orange because of another color – white. Because I am white, I rarely have to worry about or even think about my safety.
Exhibit visitors are encouraged to remove something orange from the city and put it in a collection bin outside of the gallery. At the entrance, you are confronted by the stunning photography of Amanda King and Shooting without Bullets. One of the photographs featured is of Samaria Rice, Tamir’s mother.
Since Tamir was killed in November 2014, I’ve been absolutely shocked and appalled by the reaction to his mother. There were (and are) those who blame Ms. Rice for her son’s death, while others wish she would simply go away. But much to her credit, she refuses to go away. Most recently, Ms. Rice announced her intention to build the Tamir Rice Afrocentric Cultural Center. She not only wants to give children access to art and civics programs, but also hope.
This desire for Ms. Rice to just go away reflects a longing for collective amnesia, a desire to forget our painful history. While such an act of forgetting might be comforting and convenient for some, it would, most certainly, be wrong. I am reminded of an exchange I had with a student who is roughly the same age Tamir would have been.
Student: Where was Tamir Rice shot?
Me: You mean where on his body?
Student: No, I mean, where?
Me: Cudell Recreation Center. Is that what you are asking?
Student: No, I mean, where? New York? Los Angeles?
Me: Here. Cleveland.
There are many powerful exhibits in “A Color Removed” by the likes of M. Carmen Lane and RA Washington, whose editing of the video footage from that November day is as hard to watch as it is necessary.
One of my favorite pieces in the exhibit was not an artistic one; it was a conference table, included so that the gallery can facilitate the kinds of conversations necessary for the city to reckon with its past and consider its future. It’s also where I sat to gather myself after experiencing the emotional power of the exhibit.
As I drove away, I could not stop seeing orange. It’s not that it wasn’t there before; I just hadn’t seen it. The exhibit opened my eyes. And that’s what great art should do.
“A Color Removed” will be on display at SPACES through Sept. 30.
FEATURE IMAGE: Photo courtesy of SPACES