Art Beat – MonaLisa Whitaker Episode 11

This is an interview with Photographer MonaLisa Whitaker. Jun 17,2010

11. MonaLisa Whitaker (1×11) 6/16/10

This show is produced and Hosted by Kinte.

MonaLisa Whitaker bio

MonaLisa Whitaker is a visual artist and arts advocate who works with various youth and cultural organizations in the Los Angeles area. A Los Angeles native, she has earned an Associate of Art in Studio Art from El Camino College and an Occupational Certificate in Photography from Santa Monica College. Her award winning work has been exhibited throughout the state. Since 2001, she has been the Executive Director of Inglewood Cultural Arts, a non-profit multidisciplinary arts organization. She is a graduate of the 2003-2004 Leadership Development in Interethnic Relations (LDIR) program, a workshop that focuses on cultivating and supporting leadership with regard to race, culture, class, sexual orientation and gender.

“Duality 1 and 2” are visual representations of how I view myself and the roles that I play in life. Although born an African American female, I’ve always received conflicting messages about what that means. Do I assume a feminine/submissive role or do I take on a masculine/assertive persona? As an African American woman, the expectation is usually some strange combination of the two, which can have a detrimental effect upon professional/personal relationships. This has led to perpetual questions: What does it mean to be an African American woman? How do I do it? Why is that different from women of other ethnicities? Why am I expected to behave or dress in a certain way, rather than what suits me? What does it mean to be a man? To be an African American man? Why are certain behaviors and clothing classified as feminine or masculine? Why is one labeled weak, the other strong?

Despite the fact that we are all biologically similar until approximately the seventh week of gestation, once the child is born and doctors view the genitalia, the child is labeled as “girl” or “boy.” So begins a long tradition of expectations/behaviors/attitudes. Immediately, parents, family members and society treat the child accordingly. Girls are dressed in pink, given dolls, and told it’s OK to cry. Boys are dressed in blue, given trucks and sports paraphernalia, and told boys don’t cry. Because children are basically a clean slate, at a very young age she/he starts to identify with these items as representative of herself/himself.

While this tradition supports the existing power structure of male dominance/patriarchy, it truly wreaks havoc on a person’s identity. What if a girl prefers climbing trees or a boy prefers to play with dolls? The parents quickly “correct” these preferences by directing the child’s energy where it “should” be. Why must a person’s identity be prescribed by heterosexism?

The influence of patriarchy and cultural attitudes on gender identity plays a more dominant role when ethnicity/race is considered. If the female standard is blonde, blue-eyed and you are NOT, you will receive messages from everywhere in your life that you can ALMOST change. You can straighten and dye your hair, wear colored contacts and even lighten your skin! However, the truth is, at some point (sometimes sparked by an experience/conflict) you realize that this is futile because people will judge you based on their preconceived notions about who you are, how you dress, your behavior, etc.

These images were created with the hopes of raising questions within the viewer’s mind about how she/he identifies, and why and what it truly means for society. For me, it is essential for a person to have a palette of characteristics from which to choose in creating who they are, how she/he sees herself/himself, and how she/he identifies.

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