A Shocking Awakening

Ingrid Ma on Paul Rucker’s Rewind at the Creative Alliance

“If something is ignored, it becomes more powerful,” stated Paul Rucker, as he stood in front of the crowd gathered at the opening for Rewind, his solo exhibition at the Creative Alliance. In this case, that “something” refers to the decades of unaddressed social injustice in America, particularly in the treatment of black individuals. What Rucker achieves in his compilation of multi-media work—sculptural and text installations, wood carvings, and film—is the antithesis of ignorable: it shocks, in hopes of awakening and finally confronting our collective memory of a contemptible past.

The opening of Rewind is timely, given a recent string of racially charged acts of violence all around the United States. These fresh wounds resonate in the main gallery, where the last words of police brutality victims encircle the space as a black wall text crown molding.

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Upstairs in the artist’s open studio, a winding staircase leads to a moving homage, “Little Known.” Up in the rafters, with a view partially obstructed by unforgiving steel beams, Rucker creates a graveyard of children’s violin cases, miniature coffins wrapped in American flags, under a projection of the sky. It’s a memorial for yet another group of black victims—neglected slave children, who were born into an unjust circumstance, and either tragically passed or suffered. The heart-rending imagery, along with the vibrato of strings emanating from the speakers, takes visitors away from the chatter of the gallery space and into a private moment of self-reflective meditation.

Ultimately what Rucker’s work achieves is a collective view, showing that current events are not only poignant because of their immediacy, but also because they point to a fundamental, systemic problem in the American psyche. The artist explores this problem through several different series, including sensual wooden memorials, handmade Klan robes displayed on mannequins, and shot up gun range targets. A video project, titled “Proliferation,” in the back of the gallery explores the unprecedented rates of incarceration plaguing the American criminal justice system.

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The effectiveness of Rucker’s work relies in its ability to unite a guilt-ridden history with the present-day in a clear and powerful way. He fulfills his role as a visual artist by realizing years of black oppression in a way where words or numbers have failed. Rather than blaming, Rucker creates energy in the space meant to encourage a constructive dialogue, so that long-overdue change may soon become possible. From the simple black text on the immaculate white walls, to mannequins donning Klan robes in American colors, to the moving memorial in the rafters, to the tattered paper targets, Rucker creates imagery that forces us to rewind, to look back at an uncomfortable history. It’s meant to incite, and with well-founded reason.

Ingrid Ma is a biology geek, film junkie, undisciplined coin-collector and admirer of tiny absurdities.

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