“Black Indians in Space”: An Exhibit by James Montford

We are defined by who we are and where we came from. It’s hard to break out of class structure. – James Montford

For more than 40 years, artist James Montford, director of the Edward M. Bannister Gallery at Rhode Island College and instructor of art at RIC, has been exploring racial stereotyping and the effect of racial myths on entire communities. His mixed-media collage exhibition, titled “Black Indians in Space: The Constellation” continues that dialogue. It is being held at the Yellow Peril Gallery, 60 Valley Street #5, in Providence. The exhibit runs from June 5 through July 13.

Montford said that his ethnic background – black, white and Native American – has been one of the catalysts to his explorations in stereotyping that began back in college during the late 1960s and early 70s.

“[It] was a time when the world woke up in a way in which it hadn’t been,” he said. “It became more inclusive, to a degree, and as I shot through that little hole in the door, I found myself wrestling with my own identity. What does that mean – I am black, I am Native American, I am white? All these issues were floating around in my thinking. My whole worth and value became tied up in who I am.”

Montford’s performance art has included posing as a live cigar store Indian in front of a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Buffalo, N.Y.; enacting a lynching, using his own body; and protesting the absence of artists of color during a Hartford exhibit by scrawling “No Coons Here” on the gallery wall.

“Black Indians in Space” continues the deconstruction of stereotypes and makes provocative use of racial slurs and symbols. The purpose, he said, is to examine why we hold particular positions and views about race.

Montford has been filmed as part of a four-part documentary series titled The RI Art Archive Project to document his and other artists’ contributions to the arts in the state. (See Montford in his studio along with additional commentary.)

And his work is held in numerous collections, including the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists in Boston, the Chrysler Museum of Art in Virginia, the DeCordova Museum in Massachusetts and the Mashentucket Museum in Connecticut.

The closing reception for “Black Indians in Space” will be held on Saturday, July 12, 6-9 p.m.

Yellow Peril Gallery is located at The Plant, a historic mill complex in the Olneyville neighborhood of Providence, and is open on
 Thursday and Friday, 3-8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon-5 p.m.; and 
on other days by appointment.