Coming soon to Queen’s: GHETTO

Written by: Alex Chung, Social Issues Commissioner
February 22, 2016

Contrary to popular belief, our generation and our campus is not “post-oppression”. One of our fundamental flaws as a generation is our resistance to have productive conversations as a result of a need to fixate on history as an opportunity for self-congratulation rather than reflection. We say, “Remember slavery?” as a way to insist that racism no longer exists, instead of questioning our current societal structures that mimic racial disparity of the past, just in different forms.

While students of colour express frustration with the dominant culture at Queen’s, others are quick to jump to hypersensitivity as the obvious explanation. We are happy to change our profile pictures to rainbow flags in support of marriage equality for our friends down south, but we continue to hear the negative impacts of the heteronormative and cis-normative culture we perpetuate day to day on this campus.

Lately, the new item to resist has been “political correctness” or “PC Culture”, which refers to a perceived control of terminology for the sake of being “correct”. However, I have always fundamentally disagreed with this perception of why one should be critical about the words that we use. Language inevitably carries meaning. Without meaning, words are just arbitrary combinations of phonemes. We cannot just re-claim words and dispose of their histories. In many ways, it trivializes and invalidates significant historical events.

When we use the N-word in its “re-adopted” form in pop culture, we aim to forget that this racial slur facilitated acts of hatred and disgust directed toward African and Caribbean peoples that resulted in objectification of humans, erasure of cultures, and violence. When we cure cancer one day, will we start using that term as “slang” to mean something completely different? When someone points out that it seems insensitive, will we claim hypersensitivity or PC Culture?

When Brian LaDuca and Rodney Veal, the two co-creators of GHETTO, first approached the AMS about bringing this installation from the University of Dayton to Queen’s, we were immediately intrigued not only due to the stunning aesthetic of the exhibit, but also because of its potential to facilitate critical discussions on our campus. This installation is meant to be a gateway to new topics and conversations, using art as the catalyst. “GHETTO” is a luxury brand, and the exhibition will showcase different GHETTO merchandise peppered with imagery, artifacts, and other structures that bring attention to historically impacted ghettos throughout the world.

The installation is fundamentally about “broadening the campus community’s education about the roots of the word and encourage them to bring critical thinking to its appropriation by consumer culture as well as by our own campus culture”, says co-creator Brian LaDuca. My hope is that this installation will contribute to an inclusive campus culture at Queen’s, where students are critically engaged with the terminology they choose to use. While the installation tackles the term “ghetto”, the lessons learned from the installation apply to diverse discourses.

We are thrilled to invite Brian and Rodney to Queen’s for the first international showing of this widely successful exhibition, and equally excited to witness our campus engaging with creative expressions as a facilitator of critical discussions.

About the Artists and Co-Creators

Brian LaDuca

Brian is the Director of ArtStreet and the Institute for Arts Nexus, a one-of-a-kind multidisciplinary, creative, and innovative center, whose vision is to create radical arts experiences that change the world. His most recent experiences are focused on the development of applied creative pedagogy across all campus studies with outcomes geared at critical perspective, creative confidence, and innovative application. He has a MFA in Directing for the Stage and Screen from the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film (University of Nebraska-Lincoln), and prior to his arrival at the University of Dayton in 2012 he was the Managing Director and Theatre Educator at the University of Chicago and Executive Director of Bailiwick Chicago Theatre in Chicago, IL.

Rodney Veal

Rodney is an interdisciplinary artist by definition. He started off as a ballet dancer who segued into choreography. He states that in his heart he was “always a visual artist” who received his undergraduate degree in Visual Arts and Political Science from Eastern Michigan University. When he had the opportunity to get his MFA from the Ohio State University in Choreography, he “jumped all over it!” Since then, he has moved into more and more projects like GHETTO.

What They Had to Say about GHETTO at Queen’s

What inspired you to create “GHETTO: A Retail Art Installation?”

“The actual inspiration came from Rodney himself. The design and the concept were pitched to me and scared the crap out of me (which meant we had to do it. The south student neighbourhood at Dayton has been called The Ghetto for years by students, alumni, and faculty/staff alike who, for the most part, have no concept of what the definition of a ghetto actually is nor have actually experienced the struggle within the confines of a true ghetto. Perspectives, history, and human stories needed to be shared and conveyed with the hopes that through a retail lens one might find themselves within a world they thought they understood but were, instead, taught something honest and true about the historical and present day relationships with the ghetto.” – Brian LaDuca

Why is the discourse around the contemporary re-adoption of the word “ghetto” important to the two of you and important to the University of Dayton?

“We have so much research and historical data about the negative connotations of the word, yet it has become so much a part of our pop culture. So much so that it is used in sales pitches for products from music to clothing. It is so pervasive that a kid in Southside Chicago and a grandmother on a farm in Iowa are using it. The GHETTO installation is timely and necessary.”- Rodney Veal

What are you most excited for with bringing this installation to Queen’s?

“Interacting with the students, faculty and staff… Hearing their insights, their approval or disapproval with our installation. It’s about the dialogue. It’s about the ability to listen and hear what others are saying. I can only imagine the word ‘ghetto’ has a different connotation at Queen’s than it does at Dayton. That’s why we do it… If we can create real conversation, then perhaps new perspectives will occur.”- Brian LaDuca



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