Politics & Political Theory

Portraits for change: Refusal politics and liberatory futures

We analyze viewers' experiences and understandings of an installation of portraits featuring vendors who sell Seattle’s Real Change street newspaper. In doing so, we argue that Real Change is enacting a complex politics of refusal and explore this in relation to future political lives of Real Change activism. We explore political possibilities for the transformation of urban life opened by the politics the exhibit expresses. We analyze the exhibit goals, representational strategies and viewer responses, exploring the complex politics Real Change is enacting to ensure vendor survival and anti-poverty activism. We argue that the white liberal visual regime (WLVR) ensures continued comfort of white privileged viewers, guaranteeing that their normatively white liberal understanding of impoverishment remains relatively untroubled. We explore disruptions of cultural norms that were possible within the WLVR as well as the limits of these disruptions. Drawing on critical race scholars we theorize visual fields as racially saturated, bolstering white comfort and white supremacy. While our argument begins from an art exhibit, it extends far beyond the politics of art. We analyze viewers’ responses to pose questions about whether/how these visual politics open pathways toward more profound re-learning of racialized relations that produce propertied personhood, racialized dispossession and premature death.

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Volume 40 Issue 4

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